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Early Christianity

Church of Armenia

Doctrines The Church of Armenia is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures, the Church of Armenia affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being. This doctrine has sometimes been described as monophysitism because it ascribes to Christ one nature.

History According to legend, Christianity was brought to Armenia by Thaddaeus and Bartholomew. However, the earliest reliable sources providing evidence of a Christian presence in Armenia date from the middle of the third century. In about the year 300 the Armenian king, Tiridates III, was converted to Christianity by Gregory the Illuminator, a missionary from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, who would later become chief bishop of the Armenian church. The conversion of King Tiridates made Armenia the first nation to officially adopt Christianity.
In 363 the nation came under Persian rule, exposing the Armenian church to Syrian Christian influence. In 506 the Armenian church separated itself from the mainstream church, rejecting the Council of Chalcedon which it regarded as Nestorian.
Recent church history has been an unhappy tale of schism and persecution. In the 19th century the occupying Ottoman empire recognised an Armenian Catholic church within the Roman communion, thus splitting the Armenian church. During world war one 500,000 Armenians were massacred by the Turks. For much of the present century the church has been subject to the political constraints exercised over it by the Soviet Union. This has come to an end with the break up of the Soviet Union. But the political vacuum created by this has led to other problems, particularly violent conflict between the Armenians and the neighbouring Muslims of Azerbaijian.

Symbols The Armenian church has made very significant contributions to Christian art and iconography. Illustrated manuscripts were at the centre of Armenian church art. These were elaborately decorated with biblical scenes such as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary or Christ's baptism.
A unique feature of the Armenian tradition is the khatchkhar. The khatchkhar is an upright stone slab, fixed on a rectangular base, with a cross in the middle and religious images such as the Virgin Mary or the saints around the cross. The cross has been a powerful political, as well as religious symbol, for the Armenians. During the Arab occupations the cross and resurrection came to represent the country's struggle for liberation from Arab domination.

Adherents The Armenian church has some 4 million members world-wide (Harris et al. 1994, 25). In Armenia it has 3,30,680 members (Europa Publications Limited 1995 1: 405) and there are small Armenian communities in Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Russia and the U.S.A.

Main Centre
 Echmiadzin, Armenia.