The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate During The Last 125 Years (1895-2020)
May 19 , 2020 , 21:08
The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate During The Last 125 Years  (1895-2020)

The Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople

                The former Patriarch of Constantinople Matteos Izmirlian, after his 12 years exile in the St. James Patriarchate in Jerusalem forced by the Ottoman authorities, was re-elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 1908, succeeding Patriarch Malachia Ormanian who led the nation 12 years from 1896 to 1908 very diplomatically and efficiently.  Soon after the same year Patriarch Izmirlian was elected Catholicos of All Armenians leaving Constantinople for Holy Etchmiadzin. He assumed the name Matteos II Catholicos of All Armenians. He was succeeded by Patriarch Yeghishe Tourian, whose brief and unsuccessful leadership ended with his resignation, and Patriarch Hovhannes Arsharuni succeeded him, followed by Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan in 1913, the youngest Patriarch and one of the first graduates of the Seminary of Armash in 1895. Patriarch Zaven’s tenure occurred during the most tragic decade of WWI and the Genocide of the Armenians by the Young Turks from 1915. He stood firm in his sacred office and despite his brief exile to his hometown Baghdad in 1916, he returned after the armistice and continued his patriarchal duties until 1922, when forced by Moustafa Kemal to leave Turkey for good.

Gregory-Peter XX

The Present Armenian Catholic Patriarch

                Following the sudden passing on June 25, 2015 of Nersess-Peter XIX Tarmouni the Armenian Catholic Patriarch, one month later, on July 25, 2015, the Convention of the Bishops of the Lebanon-based Patriarchate, elected Bishop Gregory Gabroyan of Paris Patriarch in the Convent of Bzommar, Lebanon. The election was blessed by His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome, and the newly-elected assumed the name of Patriarch Gregory-Peter XX. I trust the following article will be instructive in displaying the century and a quarter activities of the Catholic Patriarchate. It is obvious that all the Armenian Catholic Patriarchs have annexed St. Peter to their names, beginning from the first Patriarch Abraham-Peter I Ardzivian in 1742, ranking the new Patriarch as the 20th since the inception of the Patriarchate.


Patriarch Paul-Peter XIII Terzian

                While the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople was occupied by Patriarch Malachia Ormanian before the turn of the century, from 1896-1908, four Armenian Catholic Patriarchs succeeded each other in Constantinople with insignificant achievements. In 1899 the Catholic Patriarch Stepannos-Peter X Azarian passed away, and Patriarch Paul-Peter XI Emmanuelian succeeded him, who also passed away shortly after his 1904 election. Five years later, in 1909, his successor Patriarch Paul-Peter XII Sabbaghian passed away, and Patriarch Paul-Peter XIII Terzian succeded, who lacked popularity, enforcing unusual strictness, despite his relatively long tenure (1909-1933). Oddly Patriarch Terzian questioned the participation of the laity in the administration of the Catholic Patriarchate, rejecting certain articles from the bylaws and creating additional problems. He also left Constantinople and traveled to Europe for lengthy months, leaving the responsibility of his duties on his vicar Bishop Jamjian. While wandering in Europe, Patriarch Terzian sent two missives against the lay church delegates, who “unanimously rejected those missives which could affect deeply the 60,000 Armenian Catholics” as we read the 1911 “Dajar” monthly.

                The Ottoman Turk authorities demanded explanation from the Vicar Bishop Jamjian, concerning Patriarch Terzian’s return from his unusually long absence, blaming that “Terzian was a dictator.” The authorities further demanded his prompt return “to give the necessary reasons for his conduct.” In his letters, Bishop Jamjian wrote that “Patriarch Terzian’s behavior had opened an irreparable abyss between him and his flock,” as we quote from the same “Dajar” monthly.


Patriarch Avedis-Peter XIV Arpiarian

                As all religious institutions were exiled from Constantinople, so did Patriarch Paul-Peter XIII Terzian and the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. They moved to Beirut, Lebanon in 1928 by a verdict of His Holiness Pope Pius XI of Rome. During those trying years Armenian Catholic Archbishop Hovhannes Nazlian was very active, who traveled as a delegate to Paris upon the request of Boghos Noubar Pasha, President of the National Assembly. The National Assembly was founded by Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V Sourenian who had appointed Boghos Noubar as its President. Archbishop Nazlian stayed in Constantinople from 1921 to 1928, and saved 3,000 Armenians from the hands of Moustafa Kemal, bringing them to Constantinople from Mutania.

                In 1933 Patriarch Paul-Peter XIII Terzian passed away in Beirut, and Bishop Avedis Arpiarian, who had twice assumed the position of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchate, was elected Patriarch to succeed him as Patriarch Avedis-Peter XIV Arpiarian. During his tenure the Center of the Patriarchate in Beirut was built, proving himself “the most respected and loved cleric among all,” as attested by Patriarch Torkom Koushagian of Jerusalem, as we read in the official monthly “Sion.”

                Patriarch Avedis Arpiarian of the Armenian Catholics was born in 1856 in Agn, and was ordained priest and assigned Dean of the Levonian Seminary in Rome. He was ordained Bishop of Kharbert by the approval of Sultan Hamid of the Ottoman Empire. Arpiarian’s election as Patriarch took place in the Convent of Bzommar, Lebanon, who assumed the name of Patriarch Avedis-Peter XIV. He was successful in building the new headquarters of the Patriarchate in 1934 in Eshrefieh, a district of Beirut. Patriarch Arpiarian passed away in 1937, and was succeeded by Patriarch Gregory-Peter XV Aghajanian.


The Armenian Catholics in the Caucasus

                From 1909 to 1921 the Armenian Catholics lived in Georgia and Northern Armenia under a united Diocese until the Soviet authorities annexed Caucasus to the Soviet Union and humiliated all religious institutions. The last Armenian Catholic priest in the area is known Hagop Dz. Vartabed Bagaratian, who was arrested and imprisoned, where he died in 1936. Prior to the Soviets, the center of the Armenian Catholics was in Tbilisi and the surroundings, with seven “Senior Orders” (Avagutyunner), each with an archpriest replacing the Diocesan Prelate. A total of 60,000 Armenian Catholics represented very small percentage of the Armenian Apostolic population worldwide.

                Recently in 1991, with the consent of His Holiness Catholicos Vasken I of All Armenians, His Holiness Pope John Paul II established a united Diocese of the Armenian Catholics living in Armenia, Georgia, and Eastern Europe, centered in Giumri. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union the same year in 1991, the small Armenian Catholic community took advantage to “invade” Armenia, as soon as Armenia declared independence. The ill-fated intention was the result of a position statement issued in a large communiqué signed by the Patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church. It “challenged,” as if, the centuries-old Armenian Apostolic Church, ignoring their own separation from the Mother Church in mid-18th century by a certain Bishop Abraham Ardzivian, whom the Pope then designated him the first Patriarch of the Armenian Catholics under Rome.    

                The disrespectful statement erroneously reminded that “This is an invitation for us to rush into Armenia for the sake of securing our ancestral rights.”  The communiqué further stated foolishly that the Armenian Apostolic Church “had severed from Rome,” failing to tell the historic truth that the Catholics originated only in mid-18th century by Abraham-Peter I Ardzivian, and not before. Catholicos Vasken I was very much concerned about the mishap and raised complaint before the Vatican. He sent three archbishops to meet with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II to file his grievances officially. The Vatican in turn recognized the falsified statement and promised to act accordingly.

                Holy Etchmiadzin further took measures to properly respond to the Catholic communiqué. Upon the orders of His Holiness Vasken I, a request was made by the Primate of the Eastern Diocese in New York, that Father Zaven Arzoumanian, this writer, takes the responsibility to draft a response in detail and send it to the Mother See. The report was published in the “Etchmiadzin” official monthly and in local newspapers. I have included the article in volume III of my recently published “Azgapatum”.


Patriarch Gregory-Peter XV Aghajanian

                It was an exception that an Archbishop in the Armenian Catholic Church would reach the ranks of a Cardinal, bestowed on Archbishop Gregory Aghajanian in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Aghajanian was well educated linguist and highly regarded by the Vatican, who succeeded Patriarch Avedis Arpiarian. Born in 1895 in Akhalkalak, Georgia, he was ordained a bishop at age 40, and in 1937 was elected Armenian Catholic Patriarch. Cardinal Aghajanian was assigned by the Vatican as President of the Conference of Dispersion of Faith, and in 1963 as one of the four Chair-persons of the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Aghajanian passed away in 1971 in Vatican at age 76.


Historic Visit of Pope John-Paul II in 2001

                The past attitude of the Roman Catholic Church was revised, and entirely reversed toward the Armenian Apostolic Church on the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the Conversion of Armenia into Christianity in 301 AD. Pope John-Paul II was invited by the State of the Republic of Armenia and His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos of All Armenians to take part in the celebrations in September 2001. The visit of His Holiness Pope John-Paul II was unprecedented, and following him, a month later, His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, visited Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia from Istanbul to congratulate the Anniversary of the Armenian Church and nation.

                Both venerable Church Leaders showed utmost respect, overlooking all past centuries-old intolerance, and came to express their brotherly love toward the most ancient Church of Armenia. This writer was among the attendants in the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin who witnessed the entrance to the Cathedral of the Holy Father Pope John-Paul II. The next day the Pope visited the newly built St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral of Yerevan, just consecrated the Sunday before, to extend his paternal blessings to the citizens of Yerevan in the midst of hundreds of dignitaries, Archbishops, Cardinals, and State officials. On this important milestone, the Holy Father presented to the new Cathedral of Yerevan the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator from the Monastery of Italy where the relics were preserved for five hundred years. The relics were placed at the entrance of the Cathedral in the capital of Armenia under a canopy brought and installed from the Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

The “Letter of Refutation”

                In 1950, Patriarch Gregory-Peter XV Aghajanian issued a “Pastoral Letter,”  trying to “invite” one more useless time the faithful of the Armenian Mother Church “to return to the ancestral faith in communion with the Catholic Church.” The first question is, in what capacity an Armenian Catholic Patriarch can make such an unauthorized and false statement, showing disrespect toward the 1700 years old Armenian Church and her 130 Catholicoi of All  Armenians when they themselves separated from the Mother Church of Armenia 278 years ago in 1742? The Cardinal erroneously was despising the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the head of the Armenian Church His Holiness Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg VI.

                The ill-fated “Letter” of the Patriarch was issued in Lebanon on the 200th year of passing of Abbot Mekhitar of Sebastia, leaving the impression, as always, that the Armenian Church was historically subject to the Roman Catholic Church, had separated from her, and “suffered religiously, politically, and culturally.” What a pity! Furthermore, Patriarch Aghajanian had signed his Letter unqualified and erroneously confusing self-designation as “Patriarch of the House of Cilicia and Catholicos of the Orthodox Armenians.” Obviously, the letter was an attempt to negate and reject the centuries-old existence of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, presently established in Antelias, Lebanon since its exile from the historic site of Sis in 1915.

                Two religious official monthlies, Sion from the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate, and Hask from the Cilician Catholicosate, responded to the unfortunate Letter of the Armenian Catholic Patriarch on historic evidences. They refuted each point regarding the Letter. In a separate book known as “Letter of Refutation,” Bishop Terenig Poladian, Dean of the Seminary of the Armenian Catholicosate, presented a conclusive and in-depth refutation against the Aghajanian Catholic Patriarch’s “invitation” as an academic response.

                In his Letter  Bishop Poladian firmly refuted the Cardinal’s statements regarding the Armenian Church mentioning first that the Catholics separated themselves from the Mother Church of Armenia in 1742, and that the Armenian Church belonged to the Armenians, and not to the Catholics in Rome, where they belong, both the Patriarch and the Armenian Catholics. For sure, Bishop Poladian stated that from her inception the Armenian Church had kept her independence on the rock foundation of Christ’s Church, and not on another church. Furthermore, Christianity was preached in Armenia directly by the two Apostles, free of all capricious and fictitious surmises under the guise of “unity and “separation.” The Armenian Church has survived for 1700 years as an autocephalous church in her authentic land and legitimate origins, in the place where the Only-Begotten descended. This is the all-time answer to any questions raised by the Armenian Catholics.

The Birth of the Armenian Catholics in 1742

                Bishop Terenig Poladian has developed the historic evidences beginning from the first Armenian Catholic Patriarch Abraham Ardzivian (1679-1749), and his “non-canonical and invalid” Patriarchate,      as stated in his book. The earliest date of the Armenian Catholics therefore cannot be set before him. It was on November 26, 1740, when Bishop Abraham separated himself in Aleppo from the Catholicosate of Cilicia, and two years later in 1742 went to Rome and asked allegiance to Pope Benedict XIV to admit him as his subject. The Pope, knowingly, gave his blessings and named him Patriarch of the Armenian Uniates (Catholics). Bishop Abraham annexed St. Peter’s name to his name and proclaimed himself Patriarch Abraham-Peter I. The Convent of Bzommar in Lebanon became their headquarters founded in 1749, the year Patriarch Abraham Ardzivian passed away.

                In his Letter, Patriarch Aghajanian has referred to St. Peter as “The chief of the Apostles,” thus jumping over the rest of the Apostles who had no “chief” as such; they were all equal Apostles who received the authority equally by the Risen Christ on the day of His Ascension. This also implied that the Patriarch was considering the authority given to the rest of the disciples was “secondary and questionable.” To ignore this fact, would also imply that the centuries old Armenian Apostolic Church lacked authenticity, whereas Armenia as a nation converted into Christianity following the apostolic preaching and on the final adoption of the new religion in Armenia by St. Gregory the Illuminator and King Trdat III of Armenia.

                In Constantinople, Patriarch Karekin Khachadourian reacted to the same Letter of Cardinal Aghajanian and his “invitation” detecting four other so called qualifications that are made intentionally. They are “Chief Prince,” “Vicar,” “Chief Apostle,” and “Superior,” all used by Cardinal Aghajanian referring to St. Peter the Apostle. Patriarch Khachadourian states that none of them is found in the Gospels, being later assumptions by the Catholic Church to show the Pope of Rome as the Vicar of the Apostle. Patriarch Khachadourian says, “those titles are not useful for the governance of the churches, because assuming Peter’s or any other Apostle’s title one cannot stand as the chief of the churches at large, since obedience is due to God alone, and not to men,” as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles (5:29). In his figurative example, Patriarch Khachadourian states, “The purple does not belong to the Armenian Church or Nation; it belongs to the Roman Church only.” As for the Armenian Apostolic Church, being a national church, it suffices the “simple and modest black cassock for all the ranks in the hierarchy”.