St. Thaddeus
St. Thaddeus
St. Bartholomew

According to the Holy Tradition of the Armenian Church, the first seeds of Christianity were sown on the Armenian land at the time of the apostles. In the 1st century, both external and internal conditions were favourable for preaching Christianity in Armenia. Christianity also spread to the countries close to Armenia: Cappadocia, Osrohene, and Adiabene. Armenia’s commercial, political, and cultural relations with those countries made the advance of Christianity easier. Christianity was first introduced in Lesser Armenia and then expanded to Greater Armenia.

A series of historical testimonies in Armenian, Syriac, Greek and Latin, confirm the fact that the Apostles Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew preached Christianity in Armenia, thus becoming the founders of the Armenian Church. An important prerequisite for the propagation of Christianity was the existence of a Jewish Diaspora in Armenia. It is known that the first preachers of Christianity usually began their activity in those communities. The Apostle St. Thaddeus, arriving in Edessa, resided at the house of a Jewish nobleman Tubia. At that time, Jewish communities existed in the principal cities of Armenia, in Tigranokert, Artashat, Vagharshapat, and Zarehavan.

After the Ascension of Christ, St. Thaddeus arrived in Edessa in 44 A.D. and cured King Abgar of Osrohene from leprosy. After preaching throughout lesser Armenia, he ordained Bishop Addeh to serve in his absence as locum tenens of the Church and left for Greater Armenia to preach the Word of God. According to the Holy Tradition, Bishop Addeh was a royal robe maker by trade, and the maker of mitres to the Edessan court. After St. Thaddeus departed, King Abgar’s son, who ascended the throne after his father’s death, re-established paganism. He demanded that Bishop Addeh make him a mitre. Bishop Addeh refused, and soon after was martyred. He is remembered as St. Addeh.

St. Thaddeus continued his preaching in Greater Armenia, and converted many followers, including Princess Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk of Shavarshan, in the province of Artaz.

When the king learned of his daughter’s conversion, he used every means possible to convince her to return to paganism. Exhausting all efforts, the king finally offered his daughter a choice between Christianity and death or paganism and her crown. Remaining steadfast in her faith, she chose death, and became the first woman saint of the Armenian Church. In addition to her martyrdom, St. Sandukht is also remembered for her efforts in converting others.

By the order of King Sanatruk St. Thaddeus, along with his converts, was martyred soon after the princess in 66 A.D., for preaching Christianity. Before he was killed, St. Thaddeus secretly buried the remains of St. Sandukht. A monk named Giragos discovered the remains of St. Thaddeus and St. Sandukht near a field of Shavarshan, sometime in the 4th or early 5th century.

St. Bartholomew arrived in Armenia after preaching in Persia, during the 29th year of King Sanatruk’s reign. Here he converted the king’s sister Voguhy and many nobles. He also was martyred by King Sanatruk’s orders in 68 A.D., in the city of Arebanos, which was situated between the Lakes Van and Urmia.

Near the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd centuries, members of the Voskyan and Sukiasian families continued the preaching of St. Thaddeus. A portion of the history about the martyrdom of these Saints has been preserved until today. The author of the historic account is the historian Tatian (2nd century), who was well acquainted with all the stories of the apostles and the first Christian preachers. His references on the preachers and martyrs in Armenia are of great value.

Official Adoption

St. Gregory the Illuminator

St. Gregory the Illuminator is the Patron Saint of the Armenian Church. He is referred to as “St. Gregory the Illuminator,” or “Soorp Krikor Lousavorich” because he spread the light of Christ and converted the Armenian people to Christianity.

While Christianity was practiced in secret by a growing number of people in Armenia during the first and second centuries, it was St. Gregory (302-325) and King Trdat III (287-330) who in 301 A.D. officially proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of Armenia and thus made Armenia the first nation in world history to adopt Christianity as the state religion

The story according to the Holy Tradition is as follows: As part of a planned plot, the Persian King Ardashir I, sent a trusted friend, Anak, to Armenia, to kill King Khosrov. During a hunting trip, Anak killed the King and ran away. The loyal men of the King pursued Anak, who was subsequently killed. The dying King gave orders to exterminate Anak’s family. Only one infant escaped this slaughter, and was rushed by his nurse to the city of Caesarea. This nurse happened to be a converted Christian. She brought up her charge in the Christian faith and gave him a Greek name, Gregory. St. Gregory became a devout Christian; married a Christian lady named Mariam, and had two children, Verthanes and Arsitakes.

When the Persian King heard that the King of Armenia was killed, he overran the country and established Persian rule in Armenia. Two of the children of King Khosrov were saved. The Princess Khosrovidought was taken to one of the inaccessible castles of the country, while Prince Trdat was taken to Rome. Trdat received a thorough Roman training. When he became a mature young man, able to rule a kingdom, he was sent by Rome to occupy Armenia, recover the throne of his father, and become a Roman ally.

As Trdat was returning to Armenia, most of the loyal Armenian feudal lords, who were in hiding, accompanied Trdat. St. Gregory also decided to go along with him. Nobody had any knowledge of his background or of his religious convictions. Trdat found out that St. Gregory was a well-educated, dependable and conscientious young man. He appointed him as his secretary.

After winning back Armenia, Trdat gave orders for a great and solemn celebration. During the festival, St. Gregory was ordered to lay wreaths before the statue of the goddess Mother Anahit, who was the most popular deity of the country. St. Gregory refused and confessed that he was a Christian. One of the king’s ministers decided to reveal St. Gregory’s secret. He told the King that St. Gregory was the son of Anak, the killer of his father King Khosrov. Trdat gave orders to torture St. Gregory. When St. Gregory stood fast, the King ordered him to be put to death by throwing him into a prison-pit (Khor Virab) in the town of Artashat to be starved to slow death.

Through divine intervention and with the assistance of someone in the Court, St. Gregory survived this terrible ordeal for thirteen years. It is thought the Princess Khosrovidought, the King’s sister, had found a way to feed St. Gregory in the dungeon.

During that very year the king issued two edicts: the first ordered to arrest all the Christians in Armenia confiscating their property, the second ordered to put to death those who hid Christians. These edicts show how dangerous was Christianity for the State and for heathen religion in the country.

This undertaking of persecution revealed the presence of a group of women, who were peacefully and secretly living in the capital city of Vagharshapat. The leader of these pious women was Gayaneh. There was also among them a beautiful maiden called Hripsimeh, who King Trdat wanted to have as his concubine. Hripsimeh refused and resisted the King’s advances and finally fled from the Palace. This was too much for King Trdat and he mercilessly ordered to have all the women killed. This slaughter of innocent women and his frustration at being rejected threw the King into melancholy and finally made him insane. He could not attend the affairs of the state.

The story of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity is depicted on the doors of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City. In the detail above, Queen Ashkhen and King Trdat are baptized by the hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator

His sister, Khosrovidukht, did everything to bring her brother back to his senses. Then one day in a dream, she saw St. Gregory coming out of the dungeon and healing her brother. She told the people at the Court of her dream, and revealed that he was alive. They sent men to the dungeon to bring him out. As he emerged, out came a man with a long beard, dirty clothes and darkened face. But his face was shining with a strange and strong light. He immediately gathered and buried the remains of the virgin-martyrs and thereafter preached the Gospel for a period of time and healed the King. Trdat III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia after which the entire royal court was baptised. King Trdat was cured and became a new man. He said to St. Gregory: “Your God is my God, your religion is my religion.” From that moment until their death they remained faithful friends and worked together, each in his own way, for the establishment of the Kingdom of God in Armenia.

The Established Church
St. Gregory the Illuminator organised the hierarchy of the Armenian Church according to the principles of the Armenian state administrative system. He ordained a bishop for every principality.

These bishops were under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Bishop of Armenia, who was soon called the Catholicos of the Armenians. So the structure of the hierarchy of the Armenian Church was organised being based on local conditions and independently from those processes that took place in the Churches of the Roman Empire, where in 325 the Metropolitan system of hierarchy was established in the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea and in 381, during the second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, the Patriarchal system.

Although there were many other bishops in Armenia long before St. Gregory, he became the first “Catholicos of All Armenians.” He governed the Armenian Church for roughly 25 years. Gregory died, shortly after the First Ecumenical Council of the Universal Church was convened in the city of Nicaea. His son Aristakes, who was ordained a Bishop by him, attended this famous Church Council as the representative of the Armenian Church, because his father was too old to attend. It was in this Council that the Creed of the Christian Church (Nicene Creed) was formulated.

Baptism of King Trdat

In 353 Armenian nobles unanimously elected prince Nerses, the grandson of Catholicos Husik (341-347) as Catholicos.  A year later Catholicos Nerses convened a Council in Ashtishat, which is known in the history as the First Armenian National-Ecclesiastical Council.  The Council decided to organise homes for the poor, established orphanages, hospitals, leprosariums and other caring institutions in different regions of Armenia. The Council also decided to establish monasteries, convents for women and schools.  It is known that in the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea the definition of Christ’s divinity was adopted. Catholicos Aristakes (325-333) brought the Nicene Creed to Armenia, and it was adopted by St. Gregory the Illuminator.  Catholicos Nerses succeeded in putting into practice the decisions of the First National-Ecclesiastical Council, a feat for which he later was called Nerses the Great.

Struggle for Faith and Identity
In 387 Armenia was divided between Byzantium and Persia. The Byzantine Armenia, which included the region of Greater Hayk, soon after the fall of the Armenian rule, was governed by viceroys appointed by Byzantium. In Eastern Armenia, which was under the control of Persia, the kings of the dynasty of Arshakunies ruled for 40 more years.

Creation of the Armenian Alphabet

St. Mesrop Mashtots

In Armenia, Christian services were conducted in two languages: in Greek and Syriac. Naturally common people did not understand the service, although special interpreters translated lections from the Scripture into Armenian. In order to master the nation’s soul and conscience, it was indispensable for Christianity to be preached in the native language. Archimandrite (Vardapet) Mesrop Mashtots clearly realised this necessity when he was fighting with the remnants of heathenism in Goghtn. Mashtots was inspired by the idea of inventing the Armenian alphabet, in which task he was supported by Catholicos Sahak (387-436). After continuous and zealous work St. Mesrop, with divine revelation, invented the alphabet in 405. The first sentence translated into Armenian was: “That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight” (Proverbs 1.1).

Understanding truly the meaning of this admonition, the Armenian nation, during its whole history, used the Armenian alphabet as a weapon in fighting against foreign conquerors.

With the help of the Catholicos and the king, St. Mesrop Mashtots established schools in different parts of Armenia. Literature in translation and in the native language began to develop in Armenia. Catholicos Sahak the Parthian was at the head of the task of the translations. The Bible was first translated from the Syriac and then from the Greek into Armenian. At the same time the Catholicos sent his best students to famous cultural centres of that time: Edessa, Amida, Alexandria, Athens, Constantinople and other cities to pursue advanced studies in Syriac and Greek and to translate the works of the Church Fathers.

The achievements of the translators and the writers of the 5th century Armenian literature is so important in the national culture that the Armenian Church canonized them and every year celebrates their memory.

Battle of Avarayr

Vardan Mamikonian

In May 451 the famous battle of Avarayr took place. Under the leadership of the commander-in-chief, Vardan Mamikonian, 66 thousand Armenian soldiers, women, monks and old people resisted the Persian army, which had 200 thousand soldiers.

The battle of Avarayr was the first example of armed self-defence of Christianity in the world history, when light and darkness, life and death, faith and renunciation resisted each other, when once again the word of the Gospel was affirmed:”… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12.24).

The Armenians went to their death with the slogan: “Unconscious death is death, conscious death is immortality”. The historian Eghishe, who lived during that period, wrote that there were neither winners nor losers in the battle of Avarayr. Though the Armenian troops were defeated and had losses, the battle of Avarayr ennobled and strengthened the spirit of the Armenians so much that they were able to survive forever.

The commander-in-chief, Vardan Mamikonian, the grandson of Catholicos Sahak the Great, sanctified the Armenian land through his blood and fortified Christianity in Armenia. The Armenian Church canonized Vardan and the 1036 warriors who had died with him on the battlefield of Avarayr.

During the following 30 years, in the struggle against Persia the Armenians asserted their right to be faithful to Christianity, and in 484, the peace treaty of Nvarsak was signed between Armenia and Persia, in which the Persians acknowledged the right of the Armenian nation to practice Christianity freely.

Ecumenical Councils

St. Athanasius

Ecumenical Councils are those which took place before the first division of the Universal Christian Church. Almost all the bishops of the time participated in these councils and the decisions and canons adopted by the councils were recognised by the Universal Church.

The Armenian Church recognises the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431). The decisions and the dogmatic formulations of these councils are the basis of the theological thought of the Armenian Church which help her to protect herself against different sects and religious denominations which threatened her in the past as well as today.

In the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (325) and in the second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (381) the dogmas about Christ’s Divinity and Holy Trinity were defined precisely. The following theological problem, in which the Church of Christ was seriously engaged for a long time, is the question of unity of human and divine natures in Christ. In 431 the third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus (431) under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria condemned Nestorius’s teaching about two natures and two persons of Christ.

In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon a new definition of faith about Christ’s “two natures” was adopted.

Armenian Church Councils
In the early days of the Universal Church there arose a need to convene the hierarchy of the Church in a formal setting. The purpose was to make decisions regarding dogmatic issues facing the Church and to address the dissenters and sect movements.

The first three meetings convened by the Universal Church are called Ecumenical Councils. During her history the Armenian Church participated in and accepted the decisions of these three Ecumenical Councils – the first council was the Nicaean Council held in 325 AD, the second was the Constantinople Council in 381 AD and the third the Ephesus Ecumenical Council in 431 AD.

Besides attending the Ecumenical and Local Councils the Armenian Church convened many National Church Councils, where high-ranking church clergy gathered to make decisions over the inner order and structure of the Church, internal issues facing the church, and to answer various other questions. After the first three Ecumenical Councils it is through these National Church Councils that the Armenian Church expressed her official viewpoint on the theological, rite, canonical, administrative-organisational and other issues of the church.
The National Church Council of Etchmiadzin (1441)
This council was called to consider the transfer of the Patriarchal See from Sis to the original location of Vagharshapat, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. This put an end to the displacement of the Patriarchal See. It was returned to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, where it remains the headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Church and the location of the Catholicos of All Armenians up to the present day.

The Armenian Church during the Soviet Period
(From 1920 to 1990)
The history of the Armenian Church and Nation is indivisibly linked. Throughout our history, there have never been any significant moments that did not include the Church standing beside the state and her faithful nation. For centuries, devoid of the opportunity to restore their political rights, Armenians closely pinned their hopes of existence and preservation of our nation on the Mother Church, remaining faithful to her roots and to the Holy Gospel of Christ. World War I reconfirmed this truth, during the years of Armenia’s brave struggle for independence. The Armenian Church and nation demonstrated the unbending power of their unity and their love for freedom by fighting a decisive and vital battle in Sardarapat for independence, and together established an Independent Republic in 1918 showing exceptional heroism.

The Armenian Church welcomed and blessed the Republic of Armenia. A new page was opened in the history of the Armenians nation. It was full of hope and expectations, but unfortunately, it was short lived. In 1920, the establishment of the Soviet Republic of Armenia erased two years of accomplishments.

Under Soviet rule, the Armenian Church entered a new phase in her history, full of difficult conditions and challenges. The Armenian Church headed by the Catholicos of All Armenians and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin shared with her long-suffering flock many bitter and difficult days. These years were critical for the Armenian Church. During the years of Soviet atheism, the Church lived through one of the darkest stages of her history.

Armenian Bolsheviks carried out completely anti-church policies. They persecuted the church at every opportunity, knowing that it was a powerful and authoritative institution that was followed and listened to by the whole nation. The primary task of the Bolsheviks was to ensure communist education for the people and to educate them in atheistic ideology. The negative attitude against religion grew into obvious intolerance. In order to achieve their aims they did not hesitate in choosing any means, utilizing both acceptable and unacceptable methods. The closing and demolition of churches, persecutions and assassinations of clergymen, exile, and use of physical force became the strategy of the government.

In 1922, all the properties and grounds belonging to the Monastery of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin were confiscated from the Church and nationalized, becoming state property.

On May 10, 1922, the accumulated assets of the Matenadaran of the Armenian Church (Depository of Manuscripts) were transferred to a research centre in Yerevan (now the government owned Matenadaran). This was a great loss of historical and significant treasures for the Armenian Church. In 1922 the Soviet Armenian authorities transferred the confiscated belongings of the Armenian Church from Moscow back to Yerevan (during World War I in February of 1915, museum pieces, artwork and other treasures together with the manuscripts were transferred to Moscow from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin for safekeeping). However, instead of the 150 boxes taken to Moscow in 1915, only 120 were returned to Yerevan in 1922. Thirty boxes with the most precious objects were missing.

In January 1923, lands that belonged to the church and monastery were confiscated from the Armenian Church and the museum of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was taken over by the government. In 1927, the Abbot of the Monastery of Khor Virap, Archimandrite Karapet Astvatsatrian along with His Grace Bishop Gyut Ter-Ghazarian a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council were murdered. The monasteries, churches and parishes continued to be closed while the clergymen were arrested.

At the beginning of the 1930s the process of destroying the churches started in Armenia. Roughly 800 churches were closed during those years and converted to collective farm storehouses, clubs and garages.

In 1932 after some failures, the Armenian Church was allowed to convene a National Ecclesiastic Assembly and His Holiness Khoren I Muratbekian was elected as a Catholicos (1932-1938). It was the first Pontifical election held during the new Soviet Social system. The newly elected Catholicos tried to restore the rights and authority of the Armenian Church. He addressed his protests to the Soviet Government, but they went unanswered. The rights of the Catholicos were further limited by the authorities and new persecutions began against the Church.

Diasporan Armenians were anxious about the situation in Armenia, and they addressed their complaints to the Soviet authorities in the press, calling them to stop the persecutions of the Church. As a result, the authorities urged Armenian clergymen to make speeches to “deny” the “non-existent” persecutions and violations.

The Soviet Government passed several laws, which severely limited the activities of the Church and clergy. The Armenian clergy continued to demand that the new governors re-establish legal rights and freedom of the Church.

Many clergymen, charged with various possible and improbable deeds, were isolated and imprisoned. The most horrific of the violence and terrorism was the brutal murder of His Holiness Khoren I, Catholicos of All Armenians in 1938. It was not the end. The murder of the Catholicos, described as a heart attack by the Government, made the future of the Church challenging. The diligent Armenian communists fundamentally robbed the Mother See and took measures to close down Holy Etchmiadzin and make it a museum with the aim of exterminating the Armenian Church as an institution.

The start of World War II was a turning point in the history of the Armenian Church.  Soviet Armenia and her citizens saw the anchor of their existence in the continuation of the Soviet Union and realised that any harm to the Soviet Union would be destructive for itself as a member state.

The state of the Armenian Church was very hard during the Soviet years. It was challenging for her servants and Pontiffs to meet the spiritual demands of the nation. Many times the Church and the Catholicos of All Armenians were compromised by the Soviet authorities and defamed by certain groups of Diaspora-Armenians, yet the resolute church servants, without regard for their own welfare, continued in their service to our Motherland and our church.

The Armenian Church with her spiritual-cultural activities kept the spark of the faith deep in the souls of the faithful, a spark that ignited again in 1991, when as a response to the choice of freedom by the Armenian faithful, His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians, blessed the second Independent Republic of Armenia and its president.  The goal of the Bolsheviks to destroy the Armenian Church did not come true. Although the Armenian Church suffered many losses, it conquered all the obstacles and through the will of God and the talents and strength of her clergymen kept alive the light of Christ in Armenia.

Post-Soviet Years (1991-2004)
During the period of Soviet Communism, almost all the Armenian churches were closed down in Armenia, Artsakh and in all the republics of the Soviet Union. Some of the churches were destroyed, most of them were turned into public buildings and storehouses, while some notable monasteries were preserved as historical monuments. All religious activity was prohibited. After World War II, the Church was authorized to re-open several churches and reconstruct some historical monasteries. During the early Soviet years, the church and clergy were persecuted, following World War II, they were merely tolerated with limited rights. During this time, the Armenians living in the motherland and throughout the Soviet Union were devoid of Christian Education and spiritual freedom. Armenians living in the Diaspora were limited in their direct contact with the Mother Church and the clergy were cautious in their ability to openly interact with the Catholicosate of All Armenians.

His Holiness Vasken I

His Holiness Vazken I

This situation changed in 1991, when after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Armenian nation obtained independence and proclaimed the second independent Republic of Armenia. His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians of blessed memory, was present on the floor of the parliament the day that the referendum for freedom was voted on, and he blessed the members of the first government and the first page of its history starting a new beginning of close cooperation between the Church and the State. With independence of the nation, came the freedom of the Armenian Church to openly serve her faithful worldwide.

In Armenia, with the new law “Freedom of Conscience”, the Armenian Church undertook the sacred obligation of illuminating the life and soul of our nation with the light of the Holy Gospel. The call for additional clergy for the Diaspora was quickly addressed as a high priority. Naturally, with their first breath the nation thirsted for spiritual nourishment. The evidence of it was the call for re-opening of numerous churches, the desire to recognise and celebrate church-national feasts, the demand of the necessity to recognise the Mother Church, and the quick reaction of elation and support from the Diaspora. The Church also needed to impart to the new generation of faithful, the role and significance of the Armenian Church in the life of the nation.

Recovery within the country started with the re-opening of Churches. From 1988 to 1989, 25 monasteries and churches were returned; 19 in Armenia and 6 in Artsakh.

In the days following independence, attention was also turned to the preparation of activities for the celebration of the 1700th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion of Armenia. Within the frameworks of these events, it was planned to build the St. Gregory the Illuminator Mother Cathedral in Yerevan: the ground blessing ceremony was conducted by His Holiness Vazken I on March 31, 1991.

As the year 2001 approached, work continued on organizing the world-wide events and celebrations of the 1700th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion of Armenia. The planning of activities was a central focus for His Holiness Vazken I. In 1994 from May 6 to 9, under the presidency of Vazken I, despite his failing health, planning meetings were held with the leaders of the Hierarchical Sees were they discussed the projects and activities for the 1700th anniversary.
The worthy successor of Vazken I, was His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians of Blessed Memory (1995-1999). The short Pontifical reign of His Holiness Karekin I was also full of successes.

His Holiness Karekin I

Karekin I

Many positive opportunities and resources were available to His Holiness Karekin I. The newly independent state did all it could to support all the actions of the Church and soon the achievements registered during the Pontifical enthronement of Karekin I were clearly evident.

There was a significant increase in the number of members of the Brotherhood of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, who, apart from their spiritual service in the Dioceses, went abroad to study in numerous higher educational institutions. The reopening of the original Gevorgian Theological building, that was returned to the Armenian Church during the years of Vazken I, was a memorable event. The Seminary building was closed and confiscated from the Church in 1917, and after 80 years it was re-opened on September 18 it with attendance by the first president of the Republic of Armenia Mr. Levon Ter-Petrosian.

From 1995 to 1997, important lands surrounding the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin were legally transferred back to the Armenian Church, including the Gevorgian Theological Seminary building and the adjacent park, and the territories surrounding the St. Gayane and St. Hripsime monasteries.

His Holiness Karekin II
In October 1999 His Holiness Karekin II was elected to serve as the 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians, and the years of his enthronement have excelled in progressive and energetic activities.

In order to bring the life and works of the Mother See to the faithful, one of the focuses of His reign has been to make Pontifical visits to all the Armenian Diocese throughout the world and within Armenia. To strengthen the position of Armenian communities, official receptions and visitations have been made and held with various levels of religious and world leaders as well as government officials.

From the beginning of his Pontifical reign, His Holiness Karekin II gave great attention to the organisation of the Brotherhood of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Recurring Brotherhood meetings were held to discuss different issues concerning the role of the Armenian Church in social life and the life and activity of the monastery.

His Holiness Karekin II

His Holiness, signifying the necessity of having clergymen prepared to serve the varying needs of our faithful world-wide, initiated a program of sending members of the Brotherhood abroad to continue their theological education in higher educational institutions.

Coordination between Church and State was increased. Work between the church and state authorities was carried out in the areas of cultural and economic projects as well as social aid.

His Holiness continued the tradition started during the Pontifical reign of His Holiness Vazken I by organizing various celebrations and events in honour of notable Armenians who have contributed to the education and culture of the nation.

Over the passing years, the publications of the Mother See were associated with the 1700th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion of Armenia. Many books were published dedicated to the history, religion, traditions and mysteries of the Armenian Church. To avail these publications to guests and foreign readers, some of these books were translated into Russian, English and French.

Signifying the role of television in the realisation of spiritual preaching and interpretation of church life, the Pontiff of All Armenians transferred the “Shoghakat” TV studio from the Araratian Pontifical Diocese to the Mother See, expanding its activities.

To present the Armenian Church on the World Wide Web as completely as possible, in 2002 an Internet Department was established to create the official website of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The website will contain necessary information about the history, spiritual heritage and current status of the Armenian Church, as well as the works of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

The Primate

H. G. Bishop Hovakim Manukyan

His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan (baptismal name Vardkes) was born on October 19, 1976, in the village Voskehat, Republic of Armenia. He received his primary education at the secondary school of the village starting in 1983 and graduating in 1993. He entered the Vaskenian Theological Academy at Lake Seven in 1994 and 1999 transferred to the Gevorkian Theological Seminary at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and graduated in 2000. He also took a course at the Bossey Ecumenical School, Geneva, Switzerland in 1998 and a course in Social Theology at the Diaconal School in Aarhus, Denmark in 2001.

He was ordained to the diaconate on July 16, 2000, by His Eminence Archbishop Mesrop Grigorian. Upon his graduation in 2000, he was assigned to serve in the Inter Church Relations Department of the Armenian Church. On October 22, 2001 he successfully defended his thesis entitled “Extracts from the History of the Coptic Orthodox Church ” and received a mark of very good.

On November 11, 2001 he was ordained as a celibate priest, by His Eminence Archbishop Voskan Galpakian. From 2002-2004, he studied at the Spiritual Academy in Sergiev Posad, Moscow and received a Theological PhD degree.

Since 2004 he was reappointed to serve in the Inter Church Department of the Mother See. He was appointed to serve as the Director of the Inter Church Office in August, 2005. On April 21, 2006 he presented and successfully defended his doctoral thesis entitled “Ecumenism in the 20th Century and the Armenian Church” and on April 23, 2006 received the rank of Archimandrite (Vardapet) at the St. Mesrop church of Oshakan by His Eminence Archbishop Yeznik Petrosian.

From 2008-2009 he attended classes at the Yerevan University School of Political Studies.
In 2010, he received his ordination and consecration as a Bishop by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Since 2005 he has served as member of the Trustee Committee of the Armenian Round Table Charitable Foundation. He served as a member of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) from 2004 to 2009. He was appointed to serve as a member of the Central Committee of the CEC in 2009. Since 2004, he has served as the Ecumenical Officer of the Armenian Church to the World Council of Churches. Since 2004, he is a member of the Ecumenical officials.

In 2006, participated in the 9th WCC Assembly held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2007 at the third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, and in 2009 at the 13th Assembly of the Conference of European Churches in Lyon.

In 2010, he was a member of the delegation for the Catholicos of All Armenia’s visit to Baku and in 2011 a member of the delegation for the Catholicos of All Armenia’s visit to Georgia.

From 2014 to 2015, he accompanied His Holiness during his visits to the Vatican. In 2013 he was the delegation member of Catholicos of All Armenians during the 10th Conference of the World Council of Churches in Busan.

He was the Primate of the Diocese of Artik and the Director of the Ecumenical Relations Department from 2012 to 2015. On July 15, 2015 he was appointed to serve as the Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Great Britain.

Rev. Fr. Shnork Bagdassarian, Pastor of St. Sarkis Church


Fr Shnork Kahana Bagdassarian was ordained a priest on 16th October 1993 at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. His first assignment at the Holy See was the Editorial Assistant of the Holy Etchmiadzin Journal.

In 1985, Fr Shnork was sent to London to continue his theological studies and to serve at the St Sarkis Armenian Church under the spiritual direction of His Eminence Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian.

After his graduation from Heythrop College, University of London, he returned to Armenia and continued his service in the Homeland as a lecturer and member of the newly formed Christian Teaching Centre. He also set up and managed the Holy Etchmiadzin Media Office under the direction of His Holiness Vasken I.

In 1993, the Trustees of St Sarkis Armenian Church, with the Blessing of Archbishop Yeghishe Gizirian, appointed Fr Shnork as Pastor of St Sarkis Church. In parallel with his pastoral responsibilities, he continued his postgraduate studies at Heythrop College, graduating with a Diploma in Pastoral Theology (1994) and an MA in Pastoral Liturgy (1996).

Fr Shnork has served in various charitable and voluntary organisations and committees, both Armenian and Ecumenical, including Aid Armenia, CRAG, Education Committee, 1700th Anniversary Committee, Hayastan Fund, KCC (Kensington Council of Churches), COOC-GB (Council Of Oriental Orthodox Churches of GB) and AECA (Anglican Eastern Churches Association).