The Church of Armenia by Malachia Bedros Ormanian
The Church of Armeniaby Malachia Bedros Ormanian

The Present Time  (1910)

Chapter 42

The External Aspect


All that we have stated so far has had a bearing mainly on the past history of the Armenian Church. By this time our readers will have gained some information of her origin, the early period of her existence, and the vicissitudes of her history. Until today she has been, we will not say entirely overlooked, but in any case very little known. Having related her past history, we will now explain in a few words her present position.

The whole of Christendom is divided into four branches, viz. the Catholic and Protestant branches in the West; and the Dyophysite and Monophysite branches in the East. There is no difficulty in admitting that the Monophysites do not possess that prestige which is conferred either by numbers or by power. All they can pride themselves on is their antiquity. The Armenian Church, which belongs to this branch, occupies the leading position among the various groups into which the Monophysites are divided. Communion in faith and in spiritual love continues to be a bond between the latter; for the canons of the primitive Church do not exact a centralization of administration. Thus, the Syrian, Coptic, and Abyssinian Churches retain their auto cephalic hierarch without abandoning their communion with the Armenian Church. It is usual to include also the Chaldean Church in this category, although her profession of faith is not quite the same as that of the other four Churches. She came to be assimilated with the others at the instance of the Ottoman government, which, by its own authority, connected her from the beginning with the Armenian patriarchate.

 The Armenian Church is, therefore, of a character which is essentially national, following the type of the primitive ideal. She recognizes, as the central depositary of supreme power, the catholicos, whose see is at Etchmiadzin, and whose jurisdiction extends over the entire body of faithful Armenians dispersed throughout the world; all are equally the sheep of the same flock. We will not return to a point which has already been sufficiently dealt with, viz. the distribution of dioceses and of secondary sees, nor to matters concerning the discipline maintained in ecclesiastical administration. It will be sufficient to state on this subject that the dioceses in Russia are arranged on the basis of the regulation of 1836, called the Polojenia, which has been confirmed by an imperial ukaz; while in Turkey there prevails the arrangement under the regulation of 1860, known under the name of Sahmanadroothiun, which has been approved by an imperial irade. These regulations, although based on ancient canons and customs, have been brought into harmony with the political rights of modern times. They contain, nevertheless, various privileges which confer so many rights of an exceptional character in favor of the clergy. The new constitutional regime lately introduced both in Russia and in Turkey refuses to accept this position, and it is the policy of both these governments to endeavor to abrogate the privileges. There is, in consequence, brewing a latent struggle between the political and the ecclesiastical powers of these two countries. But the latter, strong in their acquired rights, intend to maintain their privileges, from their advantageous standpoint, so long as Russia and Turkey hold, the one to her Orthodoxy, the other to her Islamism.

If we were to search for historical data bearing on the position of the Armenian Church, we would find that the number of her faithful adherents formerly reached to no less a figure than thirty millions. Today they are no more than four million. These figures are, however, only approximate, as no official record of statistics, has yet been prepared by the diocesan chanceries. Emigrations and periodic massacres, as well as conversions and absorption of the converted into the various sects and races among whom they had settled, are the causes of this enormous diminution in their number. In Appendix II, at the end of this volume, will be found an approximate statistical record of the existing population.


Chapter 43

The Various Sects


The spirit of religious tolerance, as we have said, has had a peculiar effect in assisting Armenians to pass from their own to other denominations of the Christian faith. We will say nothing of conversions to Islamism, which are brought about mainly by the direct action of the public authorities. The descendants of such converts belong entirely to Islamism, and can no longer be considered as Armenians. They contribute their share in swelling the existing Turkish and Kurdish populations of the Ottoman Empire.

The oldest rupture with the Armenian Church is due to the sect of the Armeno-Greeks (Hai-horom), whose separation can be traced back to the period of Byzantine rule. Formerly, this sect was very numerous; but at the present time its numbers are reduced to a mere trifle-to ten thousand or thereabouts. Scattered through the dioceses of Akn, Ismit, and Keghy, they retain the memory of their origin, and their elders still hold converse in the language of their forefathers. The ancient Armeno-Greeks, who became incorporated and blended by degrees with the Greek element, no longer display, in their external aspect or their religious tenets, any of the characteristics of their original nationality.

It cannot be apprehended for a moment that the Russian domination in the Caucasus has succeeded in forming an Armeno-Russian community, with a view to its absorption into their Church; but the attempts which Pravoslavism has made in the direction have been far from successful, except in one village in the Caucasus, and in a few families in the chief cities, who have allowed themselves to be won over.

The proselytism of the Roman Catholic Church has been more successful. She has succeeded in forming an independent community, which has been recognized by the Turkish government. This success owes itself to the political ascendancy of the Catholic powers and to the pecuniary aid of the Propaganda. It has also been countenanced in a special degree by the tactics of the Roman Curia, which has given its sanction to the use, by the converts of the Armenian rite, with certain modifications. The earliest missionaries, however, had conceived the idea of introducing the Latin rituals, translated into Armenian; but they were obliged to give up the project on account of the strenuous opposition which it excited. The Roman Curia then resorted to another expedient. It published a special edition of the Armenian rituals, with the text very much altered, though retaining the semblance of the model. This expedient was scarcely very successful; and in the end it decided to foist on to the original text arbitrary and far-fetched interpretations. It has succeeded to that extent.

The remnants of the earliest conversions, which can be traced back to the sixteenth century, led their lives in scattered communities in Cilicia and in Armenia, until, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was inaugurated, at Constantinople, a vigorous campaign of proselytization, which split up the nation into two parties. The congregations of the Mkhitarists and the Antonians , and the establishment at that period of an hierarchic see, gave a powerful impetus to the movement. It made so great an advance that the Armeno-Catholics, with the approval of the sultan, ended by forming themselves in Turkey into a nationality (millet), and establishing a special hierarchy. In Russia the Armeno=Catholics have formed a community of their own, but it is subject to the control of the Roman Catholic bishop of Saratoff. [There are no Armenian Catholics in Soviet Russia.] There are also to be reckoned a certain number in Galicia and in Hungary; these, however, have no relations with their co-religionists in the East. The total number of Armeno-Catholics scattered throughout the world may be estimated at about 200,000. The towns in the Turkish Empire which contain the largest number of their adherents are Constantinople, Angora, Aleppo, Mardin, and Khotorkjoor; they are also to be found in numbers at Akhalzikha in the Caucasus and at Lemberg in Galicia. [In 1925 the Armeno-Catholic patriarchate of Constantinople was transferred to Lebanon. The present patriarch of the Armeno-Catholics is Cardinal Aghajanian; he resides in Beirut, Lebanon. At present their number is about 51,349 souls scattered all over the world.]

The Armeno-Protestant community is of recent formation. The claim, advanced by some of their members, that they are the descendants of the Thondracians or Paulicians of Armenia is purely chimerical. It has been proved that these ancient sects left no descendants in the East. We are under no misapprehension in saying that Oriental Protestantism was introduced solely by American missionaries. These latter, encouraged by the success of the Armeno-Catholics, have endeavored to form a special nationality (millet) in Turkey, with the rights pertaining to it. Their total, which approximates about 80,000 souls, is made up of a certain number of small congregations scattered throughout the empire. The mass of them are collected chiefly round their institutions of Kharpoot, Aintab, and Merzifoon, which have been founded by American missionary efforts and are supported by them. Their profession of faith is based on the principles of the Evangelical Church; a few of their number belong to the Episcopal and Baptist persuasions. The Armeno-Protestants are under the administration of the American missionaries, and exist, in a measure, on the funds procured for them by the latter. We should also draw attention to the existence, in the Caucasus, of a body of a few thousands of Armenian Protestants; but as they have no status of their own, all distinction between them and foreign communities is lost. [Since the First World War the Armenian Protestants no more constitute an autonomous community (millet). In Syria and Lebanon they form a part of the Arab Protestant community, which has a leader of its own. At present their number in the world approximates 29,667 souls. There are no Armeno-Catholics and Armeno-Protestants in Caucasus.]

Finally, it should be added that Catholics and Protestants mange their affairs in Turkey under internal regulations of their own, which have never been confirmed by the Ottoman government.


Chapter 44

The National Character


All travellers who have studied closely the ancient East have entertained the most favorable opinion of the Armenian character. All agree in recognizing therein the qualities of intelligence and of versatility. But the feature which characterizes it in a special degree is its quick and enterprising spirit, which has enable it, almost unscathed, to go through the most difficult and the most critical situations. If we were to summarize Armenian history, we should say that its beginnings were, indeed, sinister, its prosperity ever short-lived, and, for the rest, it has been continually face-to-face with dramatic incidents. The inroads, the ravages, the tribulations, and the massacres which make up that history are one long martyrology. And yet the Armenian has never allowed himself to be carried away by despair, nor has he succumbed to what is called oriental sluggishness; he has, on the contrary, always been able to turn to account the surrounding circumstances of his position, which happened to lend themselves for the exercise of his activity, and so has been able to put to good use his natural or acquired abilities.

In spite of hindrances, and the fetters whereby his progress has been clogged, he has known how to play an active part by the side of his rulers, and to raise himself to the highest positions in the countries to which he has emigrated. He has taken his share in all branches of human activity with equal success. He has excelled in commerce, in industry, in the arts and the sciences. From the oldest times, the commerce of Asia has been in his hands; the products of Armenian industry were represented in the markets of Tyre and of Babylon. In the Middle Ages the free Armenian towns of Poland and of Hungary were the centers of activity and of progress. As a rule, one is apt to forget that the English East India Company only succeeded to a position which was established in the first instance by an Armenian Company, which possessed civil and military powers.

Besides, it is a well-known fact that the Armenian populations which, at various periods of the nation’s history, were forced away from their country and transported into Turkey or Russia, have contributed in a marked degree to the prosperity of those States. The most beautiful works of architecture, the most useful institutions of the Ottoman Empire, are the handiwork of Armenians. That empire is indebted to them for the control of her finances, her coinage, the manufacture of powder, as well as the administrative services of her army. That which is loosely styled Oriental Art, so delightful in its conception, is in a great measure the offspring of their imagination and of their genius.

Many an Armenian has distinguished himself in both civil employments and in military posts. The greatest victories of the Russian armies have been gained by Armenian generals. It is to an Armenian diplomatist that the new Egypt is unquestionably indebted for her regeneration. The dawn of liberty in the East has had that nation for its harbinger – a nation which has succeeded in attaining her object only at the price of very great sacrifices; it may even be said that she is still without the reward that is her due.

The enumeration of the services which Armenians have rendered to the Eastern world would be a very long one, if we were to attempt to review all that they have accomplished; one would see in that roll with what zeal and with what untiring devotion they have striven to act up to an ideal which was not of their own; and this has been brought about by their spirit of loyalty, and for the furtherance of what action and progress demanded.

Unfortunately, circumstances alter the aspect of the case when the nation is considered as a whole, and when a close examination is made as to what it has accomplished, or what it has been in past times as a people. A distressing impression of despondency is produced by such an inquiry. Indeed, the chief cause of this unfortunate state of affairs lies in the peculiarly unsuitable topography of the old country. Armenian, having neither outlets to the sea, nor the advantage of river communications, exposed on all sides to the incursions of her neighbors, against whom she could at any time oppose only insufficient forces, found herself at the mercy of every kind of annoyance at their hands. But could such a circumstance exculpate the nation, as such, from allowing itself to fall into decay? In vain will her history be ransacked for a trace of those brilliant qualities of which Armenians, as individuals, have given proof. These qualities have always been neutralized in the collective nation by the passions of the moment, brought about by jealousies and by unbridled ambitions. Instances of these defects, always to be regretted, which have given rise to unjustifiable strifes and led her to positive ruin, are only of too frequent occurrence in her history. In this connection we have only to call to mind the end of the Arsacides, the battle of Avarayr, and the dramatic downfall of Ani.

Briskness of spirit and boldness of purpose, often useful under exceptional circumstances, are, as a rule, prejudicial, and render abortive the best of undertakings, unless they are governed by prudence. Therein lies, in the main, the cause of all failure, which the Armenian nation has often learnt from cruel experience. Of the two causes, the one physical and the other moral, which have conspired to bring about her ruin, it would be very difficult to say which has been the more active. Undoubtedly the influence of the physical causes cannot be disputed; but, in order to remedy it, did the Armenians act as they ought to have done? In the presence of the great dangers which encompassed them on every side, should they not have braced themselves up with prudence and moderation, and so brought to their side both unity and harmony? It is through cooperation and cohesion of all their available forces, that they could have prevented the most formidable calamities that have ever weighted the destinies of any race.


Chapter 45

The Influence of the Church


To keep within the bounds of our subject, we must now take a rapid glance at the influence exercised by the church over the life of the Armenian people. It is the fashion at the present time to assail, per fas et nefas,  the mistakes of ministers of worship, in order to draw conclusions therefrom against the Church herself. These detractors seem to forget that social progress, on which they rely, is the offspring of Christian genius; that the principles of liberty were, in the first instance, proclaimed by the religion of Christ; and that every kind of betterment which has been brought to fruition in the world has derived its principle and its power from that source. That which is true for the Christian Church in general has been confirmed in a remarkable manner with regard to the Armenian Church in particular.

The decadence of Armenia is supposed to be attributed to her conversion to Christianity. It is pleaded that a coincidence of dates proves this assertion, but it is not noticed that a century and a half intervened between the two events. A simple scrutiny of the facts shows that the signs of her political decadence appear prior the fourth century. They have for their origin the rivalry between the Romans and the Parthians, and about this there can be no doubt. It can, therefore, be asserted that the advent of Christianity, far from hastening her downfall, did, on the contrary, possess the merit of delaying it by a century and a half. This could not be otherwise than most natural; for if we suppose the contrary to be the case, we should have to admit that barbarism is more advantageous to the life of a nation than any other system.

There are some who have considered that the religious wars of the fifth century were a mistake, and that submission to the religion of Zoroaster would have been most beneficial to the destines of the nation They seem to forget that the tactics of the Persians, in inflicting their religion, had for its sole object the absorption of the races which they brought under subjection. If they had yielded to them, the Armenians would most certainly have endured the lot of those who embraced that religion. Nothing more would have remained of them – not even their name.

There are others who try to prove that the nation would have been placed in a better position had she been converted bodily to Islamism. It does not seem quite clear what advantage such conversion would have brought her. After the conquest of the country the number of converts to that faith was considerable; some going over to it through self-interest, others by compulsion. What has become of them? They have all melted away into the mass of the Turkish and Kurdish populations. The manifest fact which dominates all these quibbles is that the designation ‘Armenian’ is borne only by those who have remained loyal to the faith of Christ.

There is also an inclination to find fault with Armenians for their attachment to their national Church, under the impression that their position would have undergone a change for the better had they given themselves over to Roman Catholicism; they would in this way have secured the protection of the Catholic powers. To show the extent of this delusion, it is only necessary to call to mind the occurrences which signalized the last days of the kingdom of Cilicia. It was proved then that its downfall could be ascribed precisely to that closer intercourse which was existing at the time with the Latins. Neither is it difficult to notice also that the Armenians who had gone over to Roman Catholicism without any restraint ended by forgetting their origin; and furthermore, that the Armeno-Catholics themselves of Turkey, who enjoy the advantage of an autonomous community, exist in a state of continual and open strife with the papacy, who aim and object is to change the character of their nationality.

All these facts bear positive proof that the national Church has been the sole bond which has united the scattered remnants of the race of Hayk in an indestructible bundle within her folds. She has unquestionably given them, not only the elements of inner vitality, but also the means whereby they could give themselves form and shape for the battle of life, and maintain themselves in their dealings and their efforts. She has fashioned them into a distinct body, the members of which ever possess that individuality which distinguishes them through space and time.

Bereft, for many centuries, of political life, the nation has linked herself to her Church as to an anchor of salvation, and hence it is that she has been able to triumph over the difficulties which have assailed her though she has emerged from those struggles in an enfeebled condition and in diminished numbers. That force which has in the past exercised so potent an influence over her destinies has not ceased to operate. She will resort to it as long as circumstances make it her duty to do so. Experience has shown that, in the absence of a political link, the national Church is alone capable of making up for that universal want. She is the visible expression of the absent fatherland, the one that satisfies the noblest longings of the soul.

In these latter years a rumor has been abroad in certain quarters of so-called Armenian maneuvers, having for their object a demand for political autonomy. The two neighboring empires, in who territories the bulk of the Armenians happen to be dispersed, have seized the pretext, so far as that object is concerned, for using a relentless rigor towards that nation. In all fairness, can that nation be censured for cherishing aspirations of that kind? Is not every desire for betterment both natural and self-emanating? But, if the sentiment is spontaneously evolved, reason comes in to direct its course. Armenians possess too distinct a consciousness of realities to be led astray into dangerous utopias. Can they forget that their intellectual, their financial, powers, in a word, their general abilities in the affairs of the world, have conspicuous everywhere, except in those very places where they should have been allowed to exercise them for the nation’s benefit? With such difficulties set in their path, can they delude themselves over the possibility of realizing their political designs in the way that they would themselves choose? Such a proposition cannot be accepted without offending the good sense of the nation. The Armenian is able to endure, if it must be, the accusation of harboring tendencies which are liberal, nay, even patriotic, even though such accusations be made without solid grounds; but it is not in his nature to suffer himself to be charged with ignorance or stupidity.

It may be truly said that every good Armenian is governed solely by the one desire to live at peace with his neighbors. All that he asks is that his life, his honor, his property, and his industry should be secure against danger; that he should be allowed to enjoy in peace, like other people, the fruits of his labors, and that he should share in those ordinary privileges which are accorded to the people among whom he has taken up his abode. With this legitimate desire he would combine that of protection for the individuality of his race, his language, and his literature. It is to secure to himself the possession of these blessing, the pious heritage of his ancestors, that he has sought refuge in the bosom of his national Church, which he wishes should remain intact, with her institutions, her prerogatives, and the integrity of her acquired privileges.

He is impressed with the conviction that the Church, which has protected him in the past, will continue to protect him in the future.