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THE ARMENIAN CHURCH.
“The Armenians may justly claim to be the oldest Christian nation in the world.”—H. B. Tristram, D. D., LL. D., F. R. S., Canon of Durham, England.
EFORE entering into a description of the Armenian
church, let us cast a glance at the various stages of the primitive religious life of the people. From the earliest times man has recognized and obeyed the religious instinct. Conscience and reason, no matter how rudimentary, combine to make him bow before some power outside himself, in whose hands he is, and to whom he owes some sort of homage. The veriest savage acknowledges with mingled fear and gratitude his dependence upon the Great Provider, Ordainer and Judge, if only in his reverence for the Son. As this religious impulse develops, the idea of propitiation forms more and more the predominant element in it, probably from the growing sense of helplessness and fate consequent upon the accumulation of experience.
Once this idea of propitiation has firmly seized upon the primitive mind, the next step is, for the sake of greater efficiency, to dedicate all this work to one man-judged pleasing to the gods.
This is the idea of the priest-simple at first and pure. Often this priest was merely the head of the family, who, as the revered, obeyed and responsible representative thereof, stood therefore before the gods to recommend, to intercede, and conversely to bless and to curse. Such was the earliest form of Oriental priesthood.
According to the testimony of the Scriptures, after the resting of the ark "upon the mountains of Ararat,” Noah offered burnt offerings upon the altar. Since these mountains are in our central province, Armenia may be said to be the earliest home of divine worship, and from here patriarchial monotheism was transmitted to Noah's descendants.
analagous cases of Abraham and of kindred patriarchs as worshipers of one true God. In the patriarchal observance of religion, the father was the high priest of the family, officiating daily at the rude family altar. He enjoyed the sacred religious reverence which is the divine right of the pious head of a family. We may well pray for restoration of this ancient and mutual sense of religious duty and
The Old Testament is not a universal history. It is the history of the Hebrew nation. It does not, therefore, mention all nations who were possessed of the same form of worship. But we have our traditions, which are sufficient proof to sustain us in our belief that pure monotheism was the pre-historic religion of the Armenians, as it was the primitive religion of all other Aryans. We cannot, however, positively determine the duration of that pure religion in Armenia. By degrees, through the influence of idolatrous neighbors, she embraced polytheism of Assyro-Babylonian type. Our cuneiform inscriptions inform us in particular of the names of deities and the regulations for daily sacrifice.
With the supremacy of the Medo-Persian empire, there arose in Western Asia the dualistic religion of Zoroaster, teaching that there are two supernatural beings-Ormazd, * the creator and preserver of all things good, and Ahriman, the source of all evil and mischief. These rival gods, having in command good and evil spirits, were in perpetual strife. The fire, which was the personification of Ormazd's son, became the supreme object of worship.
This was the religion of the Armenians from the last decade of the seventh century B. C. to the advent and introduction of Christianity, in whose cause our people struggled in many bloody battles against the established Zoroasterian system.
The Armenian church is of vital interest to Armenians, because it has served a double mission. Not only is it an organization exerting a religious influence on the people, but since the subjection of the country to the Turkish government, the church has also served as a conservator of the national spirit and unity.
Patriotism and common religion are two important uniting forces of a nation, and of the two, religion is far more potent in its preserving power. Although under the Turkish yoke, the Armenians still preserve their national peculiarities; they are independent in spirit if not in fact. But this church should also be of interest to every Christian of every country, because of its associations with early Christianity. It should be a delight to trace down the centuries and fortunes and misfortunes of a church founded by the first disciples of our Saviour.
* Ormazd of the Persians is the same as Armazt of the Armenians and Jupiter of the Greeks.
Cast a glance at the condition of the eastern world in the time of Christ's Advent! When Zoroastrianism was multiplying its gods, and at the same time multiplying vice and immorality, when the ancient Babylonians were in eager endeavor to keep their old, dying Sabaism alive, when many branches of heathenism were contemplating the manufacture of some new and better gods, when even the sacred religion of Judaism had fallen into ritualistic literalism; in a word, when the dark and threatening clouds of meaningless strife and hopeless controversy had seized the oriental sky, and the people were blundering in the darkness of superstition and ignorance, then rose the Son of Righteousness to illumine the whole world, bearing in its radiance the burden of that angelic benediction, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
It was during the reign of our King Abgarus of Edessa that Bartholomew, one of the twelve, and Thaddeus, one of the seventy, went about preaching the gospel in Armenia. As a result of their faithful labors and the power of the new Gospel they proclaimed, the king and the royal family were
converted and baptized in the river Euphrates, and following their example, the whole nation turned from their idolatry to the true God.
Notwithstanding this resistless wave of Christain power and good, the conversion proved transient, and a short time after the death of Abgarus the nation relapsed into its false religion. It was reserved for St. Gregory, a prince of the reigning family of Arsacidae, a man "mighty to the Lord," to turn the erring people back to Christian faith and worship. This learned man had been sent by Tiridates to the Greek bishops of Cæsarea for ordination, and under the influence of his preaching, the haughty king Tiridates (Durtad) embraced Christianity, and as a result, each man became iconoclast, and worshiped again a spirit in spirit and in truth (301 A. D.)*
Tiridates bestowed on his people the imperishable honor of being the first nation to have a Christian ruler. The baptism of this Armenian king into the Christian church antedates that of Constantine thirty-seven years. Commonly the latter is referred to as the first Christian emperor, through paucity of information on Armenian history in the libraries of Europe and America.
With Christianity came an elevation of the national mind, and the century following formed the golden age of Armenian literature. Schools were established in every
* The converting the king by St. Gregory is most remarkable in the light of the fact that Gregory's father had assassinated the father of the king, who was the assassin's cousin.