Armenian Jerusalem
      

Although the Armenian connection with Jerusalem began some two

centuries before the advent of Christianity, when the victorious

armies of King Tigranes II swept across the land, extending an

empire that encompassed much of the known world then,

documentary evidence from that period is scant and fragmentary.

                  The   armies   had   left   behind   colonies   of   Armenians   whose   numbers   were constantly   replenished   and   augmented   over   the   years,   but   few,   if   any,   of   the records they must have kept over the years, have survived.                   One   such   exception   is   a   letter   from   a   Byzantine   bishop,   unearthed   recently   by leading Armenian scholar, Prof Abraham Terian.                   The   letter   was   written   in   Greek,   but   it   is   its   Armenian   translation   that   has survived,   making   it   one   of   the   most   important   discoveries   concerning   Armenian Jerusalem ever made.                  According   to   Terian,   this   is   "the   earliest   complete   writing   from   Jerusalem   this side of the New Testament."                   The   internationally   acclaimed   Terian,   a   former   "kaghakatsi"   (native   of   the   Old City   of   Jerusalem),   dates   the   document   to   the   year AD   335,   a   little   over   30   years after   Armenia   became   the   first   nation   in   history   to   accept   Christianity   as   a   state religion.                   The   letter   was   penned   by   Macarius,   bishop   of   Jerusalem,   who   had   been commissioned   by   Emperor   Constantine   to   oversee   the   construction   of   the   church of   the   Holy   Sepulcher.   And   it   is   in   answer   to   queries   by   the   nascent   Armenian Church regarding baptism and the Eucharist.                   Terian   worked   for   some   years   on   studying   and   researching   the   letter,   the   fruits   of   his labors   resulting   in   a   book,   "Macarius   of   Jerusalem,   Letter   to   the   Armenians,   AD   335"   (2008, 184pp,   published   jointly   by   St   Vladimir's   Seminary   Press   and   St   Nersess Armenian   Seminary   in New York).                   In   the   book, Terian   goes   beyond   establishing   the   authorship   and   date   of   this   earliest   full- length document bearing on Armenian history, not just Armenian church history.                   The   book   has   been   enthusiastically   received   in   academia,   having   acquired   a   prominent place in the history of liturgical development originating in Jerusalem.                   "This   is   the   earliest   complete   writing   from   Jerusalem   this   side   of   the   New Testament,   the earliest   witness   to   the   liturgy   of   Baptism   and   the   Eucharist   (the   two   basic   sacraments   of   the Church)   whose   author   and   date   and   the   provenience   of   both   sender   and   recipient(s)   are known," Terian says.                   The   importance   of   the   letter   is   attested   to   by   the   fact   that   the Armenian   text   was   also translated   into   Latin   and   English   in   the   19th   Century,   but   it   was   from   a   defective   text, resulting in either misdating or misattributing the document.                  Terian's   "elegant   study"   of   the   letter   is   accentuated   by   a   verse-by-verse   commentary,   and helps   place   the Armenian   church   "in   its   earliest   relations   with   Jerusalem,   the   'Great   Church' and    the    religious    traditions    that    exercised    so    dominant    an    influence    on    Armenia's development," according to one reviewer.                   (Prior   to   the   invention   of   the   Armenian   alphabet   in   406   AD   the   entire   literature   of Armenia was written in either Greek or Syriac).                   The   Armenian   translation   is   in   the   Classical   tradition.   Terian   includes   the   full   text alongside an English version.                   Macarius,   who   identifies   himself   twice   in   the   document,   is   acutely   aware   of   the   noble credentials   of   the   formative Armenian   church   and   acknowledges   it   with   these   words:   "Indeed you,   on   your   own,   have   manifested   such   longing   for   spiritual   rewards,   for   the   very   enriching, divine   and   spiritual   treasures,   having   sent   a   letter   from   a   distant   land,   from   your   regions   of the east to the holy city of Jerusalem."                  The   letter   reveals   intriguing   insights   into   the   practices   and   rituals   of   the   churches   of   the East at the time.                   Apparently,   these   churches   did   not   have   any   regular   fonts,   but   carried   out   baptisms   in any handy vessel, which seems to have amazed Macarius.                   Another   practice   that   amazes   the   bishop   is   that   the   priests   did   not   seem   to   have sufficient "oil of sealing" with which to anoint an infant's entire organs of sense.                   Macarius   minces   no   words   in   censuring   strays,   those   who   hold   opposite   opinions,   or   who crave   glory,   citing   an   unknown   bishop   called   Torg,   for   his   "insolence"   and   for   conferring   on himself the "honor for an archbishop which he is not worthy to receive."                   He   will   not   tolerate   shortcomings   and   pronounces   an   anathema   on   those   who   are contrary minded.                   The   letter   not   only   provides   some   insight   into   the   nature   of   pre-Nicene   Armenian Christianity, but attests as well to the early presence of Armenians in Christian Jerusalem.                   "Its   intention   was   to   bring   the   nascent Armenian   Church's   ritual   practices   in   baptism   and Eucharist into line with those practised elsewhere," another reviewer notes.                   The   letter   survives   only   in   Armenian   in   two   documentary   collections,   one   compiled   in the   early   seventh   century   and   re-arranged   in   1298;   and   another   in   the   eighth   century   and given   its   current   shape   in   the   eleventh   when   it   appears   to   have   undergone   some   changes, ranging   from   abridgement   to   alteration   but   not   to   the   detriment   of   the   overall   structure   of the document, the reviewer adds.                   For   his   role   in   promoting   early   Armenian   literature,   Terian   has   been   honored   by   his Motherland   with   his   election   as   Fellow   of   the   National   Academy   of   Sciences   of   the   Republic of   Armenia.   This   follows   international   recognition   when   five   years   ago   he   became   the   first recipient   of   the   Fulbright   Distinguished   Chair   in   the   Humanities   award   by   the   Fulbright Foundation,   the   Council   for   International   Exchange   of   Scholars   (CIES)   of   the   US   Department of State, and the US-Israel Educational Foundation (US-IEF).
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
Armenian Quarter
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