Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Armenian Catholic Church: A Preview

Recently I posted an essay I had written on the Eastern Catholic Churches that was to serve as a sort of introduction for those not very familiar with Eastern traditions. This was to be the first in a series with subsequent articles going more in depth in regards to each different liturgical rite of the Church. Unfortunately, my time has been limited as I've been working overtime, have a new addition at home to look after, and other things coming up as well. There's a lot to research with these essays, so my posting will be pretty sporadic here for the next few weeks as I get these essays done in my spare time.

My next essay on the Armenian Rite will hit Catholic365 on Monday night, with the next in the series on the Alexandrian Rite coming out the following Monday. Here's a preview of the next essay to hold things over, and I'll post a link here to the full essay once it's live.
The Armenian Catholic Cathedral in Gherla, Romania

In my first article in this series, An Introduction to the Eastern Catholic Churches, we were able to get acquainted with the 24 sui iuris (autonomous or self-governing) Churches within the Catholic Church. 23 of those Churches are Eastern Catholic Churches, and those 23 Churches belong to one of five liturgical traditions or rites. The first one that we’ll take a look at today is the Armenian Rite. The Armenian Rite is unique, as it is the only Rite within the Catholic Church besides the Latin Rite to have only one sui iuris Church within its liturgical tradition. Obviously, that sui iuris Church is the Armenian Catholic Church. Armenian Catholics have a rich history, and can be found all over the globe today. The Armenian Catholic Church is also one of six Eastern Catholic Churches to be called a patriarchal Church. But just what does that mean? Don’t only the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox have Patriarchs while Catholics have bishops? Let’s take a closer look at this distinction before we delve into the distinct traditions and practices of the Armenian Catholic Church.


According to the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches (CCEO), a patriarchal church is headed by a patriarch who “is a bishop who enjoys power over all bishops including metropolitans and other Christian faithful of the Church over which he presides according to the norm of law approved by the supreme authority of the Church.” These patriarchs are elected by their synods, and must extend communion to and receive it from the Pope in Rome, before officially taking their office. This is basically a formality at this point, as the Pope always accepts the vote of the fully Catholic synods. Before the Great Schism in 1054, there were five patriarchal episcopal sees which were located in Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. As Churches left and re-entered communion with the Pope throughout the centuries, there are now more than five patriarchs in the Catholic Church (the Pope himself being the Patriarch of the West), and as already mentioned, one of those patriarchs belongs to the Armenian Catholic Church. The current Patriarch is Gregory Petros XX Gabroyan, and his official title is the “Catholicos Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics”, making him the head of the Armenian Catholic Church. He was enthroned as patriarch on August 9, 2015. But we must look to history to see how the Patriarch of Cilicia came back into communion with the Catholic Church.

The very first Patriarch of Cilicia, Abraham Petros I Ardzivian, was responsible for bringing Armenian Christians back home in the year 1740. Many Armenian Christians had separated from the Church following the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 over certain Christological definitions. Between then and Patriarch Ardzivian’s reign, there were a couple times that reunification was tried, but it never had any lasting effects. It wasn’t until Patriarch Ardzivian converted to Catholicism, ordained a bishop and two clergymen who then elected and consecrated him patriarch on November 26, 1740, that a real unification was made. Ardzivian then traveled to Rome with his vicar and clergymen to have his election as patriarch ratified by the Pope. 

On December 8th, 1742, Ardzivian’s election as patriarch was recognized, and was given the pallium by Pope Benedict XIV, affirming the unity between the Latin and Armenian Catholic Churches, and that union has continued on since that day.

The Church Today

Since that momentous day back in 1742, the Armenian Catholic Church has grown significantly, now boasting over 735,000 faithful worldwide throughout four archeparchies (the Eastern equivalent of an archdiocese), six eparchies (the equivalent of dioceses), and several smaller exarchates and ordinariates throughout the world. This growth has continued to happen despite the Armenian Genocide under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. Most of the Armenian Catholic population is currently in the Canada, the United States and in France, with the Patriarchs seat currently in Beirut, Lebanon with around 12,500 faithful living there according to the 2015 Annuario Pontificio. Now it might seem odd that most Armenian Catholics live in the US and France, but there’s a reason for that. Those numbers look larger in Western countries specifically because of the threat of ISIS and other militant Islamist groups in countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. For instance, the Eparchy of Ispahan, Iran has seen a dramatic loss in population. In 2010 there were 8,000 Armenian Catholics living in the eparchy. As of 2015, there were only 200. God only knows how many Catholics are left in the eparchy in 2016, but thankfully, the liturgy and tradition of the Armenian Catholics is living on throughout the world.

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