Monday, April 13, 2015

Armenian Orthodox and Catholic relations

Pope Francis is flanked by Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, Lebanon, left, and Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as he leaves after celebrating an April 12 Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While Catholic and Armenian Orthodox theologians continue discussions aimed at full unity, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, commemorated the already-achieved unity of Armenian Catholic and Orthodox martyrs in heaven.

Pope Francis concelebrated Mass April 12 with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni in the presence of Catholicos Karekin and thousands of Armenian Catholic and Orthodox faithful.

Media attention focused on the diplomatic tensions created between the Vatican and Turkey when Pope Francis used the term “genocide” to describe the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman-Turkish empire in 1915-18.

While the Mass marked the 100th anniversary of the genocide, Pope Francis also used the occasion to encourage ecumenical relations and to declare St. Gregory of Narek a doctor of the church. The 10th-century Armenian monk is venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis handed a message to Catholicos Karekin expressing his hopes that the centennial of the genocide would be “a time of deep prayer” for Catholics and Orthodox. “Through the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice, may the blood which has been shed bring about the miracle of the full unity of his disciples,” the pope wrote.

The fact that those who died in 1915-18 were Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, is a sign of “the ecumenism of blood,” a unity that exists through common suffering, the pope said. Commemorating their deaths together, he said, “reflects on earth the perfect communion that exists between the blessed souls in heaven.”

Speaking at the Mass, Catholicos Karekin prayed that “the martyrs would unite us as children and servants of the one Lord Jesus Christ so that we would learn and commit ourselves to establishing love, justice and peace in the world.”

The Armenian Orthodox officially distanced themselves from Rome and Constantinople in the sixth century; the churches now commonly referred to as Catholic and Greek Orthodox differed with Armenian church leaders and other Oriental Orthodox bishops over theological explanations of Christ’s identity as both human and divine.

But throughout history contacts continued between members of the various Christian communities and, in fact, at the end of the 12th century Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders in Cilicia (now in southern Turkey) re-established full unity. But the agreement was not accepted by all Armenian Orthodox.

A new attempt was made at the Council of Florence in the 15th century and the foundation was laid for a formal structure for the Armenian Catholic Church, preserving the liturgical and spiritual heritage of Armenian Christianity. Pope Benedict XIV in 1742 named the first Armenian Catholic Catholicos for the community.

The Armenian Orthodox sent observers to the Second Vatican Council and were seen as early promoters of the modern ecumenical movement.

In 1996, the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Pope John Paul II signed a joint declaration officially ending more than 1,500 years of doctrinal disagreement over the theological explanation that Christ is one person in two natures, undivided and unconfused. Through dialogue, the churches declared they profess the same faith in Christ and said the differences that drove the churches apart in the sixth century were semantic rather than doctrinal.

The Armenian Apostolic Church has more than 6 million members today. While based at Etchmiadzin, near Armenia’s capital, the devastation of the genocide, World War I and decades of Soviet domination led to widespread emigration. The church has dioceses around the world.

The Armenian Catholic patriarchate is based in Beirut, Lebanon; its more than 566,000 members are served by dioceses and other structures in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Jerusalem, Ukraine, Greece, Latin America and New York.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What is the need for an "Armenian Catholic Church" outside of Armenia? And why is her Patriarchate based in Lebanon where there's already another Catholic Patriarch? Shouldn't the Armenian Catholics be told to join the existing Catholic hierarchy to avoid being excommunicated for phyletism?

  3. Because being a patriarch in the Catholic church is just a little bone tossed to a bishop. It means nothing. Catholics will talk a good game about primacy, but what primacy matters to them other than papal primacy? Here is a fun game: some online Catholics like to throw the jurisdictional situation in the Americas in the face of us Orthodox. Next time a Catholic says something along the lines of "You guys can't even figure out how to not overlap your hierarchy. Who is the real Orthododox bishop of North America anyway?" Just smile and say, "Who is THE Catholic Patriarch of Antioch? Or does being a patriarch only mean one thing in Rome and something else everywhere else?"

  4. Simple. The 5th Century jurisdictional ecclesiology no longer conforms to reality (whether it includes 3 patriarchs and a metropolitan in the Ukraine, 5 patriarchs in Antioch, a Russian archbishop of Paris, a Roman Rite bishop in Syria, or the clustercrap that exists in the Americas in both Orthodox and Catholic circles). Every bishop/patriarch now looks after his own flock wherever they may be.

    1. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you saying Byzantium no longer exists or something?

  5. "Phyletism" is an Orthodox concern, not a Catholic one traditionally. Catholics are comfortable with overlapping liturgical/ritual-based jurisdictions, at least in the present. I hope that clarification helps.

    Frankly, from the experience of Ruthenian and Ukrainian immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century, Catholics learned that one can't trust the faithful of one liturgical/ritual rite to a bishop of another. In that respect, our situation is different than the Orthodox, who are almost all of a single liturgical/ritual rite. There is little reason why they are separate except for ethnic-racial rivalry.

    1. Catholics are comfortable with overlapping liturgical/ritual-based jurisdictions...

      They're not "liturgical/ritual-based." They're ethnic-based.

  6. They're not "liturgical/ritual-based." They're ethnic-based.

    The Armenians are most definitely liturgical/rite based. The Armenian Catholics use the Armenian Rite. In what way do you think that's ethnic based?

  7. Is there something wrong with being Armenian?
    Are they not allowed to migrate out of Armenia?
    If they emigrate, does that mean they must be willing to give up their own liturgical rite?
    Bruce T.

    1. There's nothing wrong with any of that. If I were Armenian, I'd be a proud Armenian. I think every nation should have its own Rite. But this would seem to violate the canonical order of a single hierarchy for a single area, as is presently the case with global Orthodoxy. So far as I know, none of the bishops are excommunicating each other for phyletism or racism.

      Is it perhaps time for the Church to admit that people like having an ethno-cultural patrimony and it's permissible for them to organize the Church Local around it?