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Two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church

he existence of two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church - the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin (the Catholicosate of All Armenians), Etchmiadzin, Armenia, and the Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon,- is due to historical circumstances. In the 10th century, when Armenia was devastated by Seljuks, many Armenians left their homeland and came to settle in Cilicia where they re-organized their political, ecclesiastical and cultural life. The Catholicosate also took refuge in Cilicia. In 1375 the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Cilicia became a battleground for hostile Seljuks, Mamluks and other invaders. In the meantime Armenia was having a relatively peaceful time. The deteriorating situation in Cilicia on one hand, and the growing cultural and ecclesiastical awakening in Armenia on the other, led the Bishops of Armenia to elect a Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. The latter was the original seat of the Catholicosate, but it had ceased to function as Catholicossal See after 485.

In 1441 a new Catholicos was elected in Etchmiadzin in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi. At the same time Krikor Moussapegiants (1439-1446) was the Catholicos of Cilicia. Since 1441, therefore, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges and with their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia

The Multi-faceted role of the Catholicosate of Cilicia

he role of the Cilician Catholicosate has incorporated various dimensions and spheres of the life of the Armenian people. It is important to identify some of the major ones:

- Throughout its history, and especially in difficult times, the Catholicosate of Cilicia has always been actively present in the life of the Armenian people. It has played a leading and significant role particularly in the educational, cultural and social spheres. After the Genocide it brought an important contribution to the formation and the organization of the Armenian Diaspora.

-  Being itself a victim of the Armenian Genocide, the Cilician Catholicosate played a key role in the presentation of the Armenian Cause to international circles. It also helped towards the awareness-building of its own people concerning this crime against humanity.

- The Catholicosate brought a major contribution to the development of social service. Not only it encouraged social projects at the diocesan level, but initiated important social projects, mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Greece. The orphanage in Jbeil (Bird's Nest), the Sanatorium, the popular housing project, the Old Peoples' Homes in Lebanon, Syria and Greece, are directly administered by the Catholicosate.

- The contribution of the Cilician Catholicosate to the flourishing of the cultural life in the Armenian Diaspora is significant, indeed. The publishing house of the Catholicosate has each year published hundreds of titles. An important number of publication funds have been established; book exhibits and fairs, a great number of conferences, debates, seminars, cultural meetings and concerts have been organized annually. The construction of a Museum in 1994 and the establishment of an important Library are eloquent manifestations of the growing interest of the Catholicosate in the promotion of the Armenian spiritual and cultural values.

"Cilicia" museum treasures are displayed on four floors. They comprise mainly liturgical sacred relics, vestments and vessels brought from the Catholicosate of Cilicia, in Sis, illustrated manuscripts, coins, traditional Armenian artworks, carpets, archeological objects and works by Armenian painters and sculptors. The masterpieces of this collection are undoubtedly the Gospel of "Partzerpert" copied and illuminated in Hromgla-Cilicia, in 1248, and "The Bible of Vosgan" printed in Amsterdam, in 1666. 

"Khatchig Babigian" Library has a rich collection of 80,000 volumes and 2000 old-prints. It has also an important series of old and new periodicals. This museum-library is dedicated to the 1700th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Christianity in Armenia.

- The Theological Seminary has played a pivotal role in the witness of the Catholicosate. 250 teachers, 130 married priests, 75 vardapets, 30 bishops and archbishops, and the last four Catholicoi have graduated from the Seminary. 

The history of our Seminary is inseparably interwoven with the history of the Armenian people. This is also true with the Armenian Church who has always kept pace with the rhythm of changing circumstances of the life of the Armenian people. 

After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, the Catholicosate of Cilicia was exiled together with its people from its centuries-old homeland and in 1930 took refuge in Antelias, Lebanon. One of the priority concerns of Catholicos Sahak II, has been the foundation of Seminary. Thus late in 1930, through his untiring efforts a Theological Seminary was established in Antelias. In the course of time the Seminary grew qualitatively and quantitatively. All the Catholicoi pay a particular attention to the Seminary, making it "the heart" and "the backbone" of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. 

The Theological Seminary brought a significant contribution towards the evangelistic, missionary and educational task as well as to the spiritual renewal of the Armenian Church. Thousands of people, both clergy and laity, were formed in the Seminary. It was a very tough responsibility for the Seminary to struggle against the odds of a Diaspora situation, to wrestle with the challenges of changing times, and to meet the growing needs and demands of the Armenian people scattered all around the world. The Antelias Seminary took this challenge with supreme courage and profound sense of responsibility. 

It is with this vision in heart and perspective in mind, that His Holiness Aram I, immediately after his election as Catholicos and within the context of his new priorities, gave a particular attention to the Seminary. His Holiness clearly stated that the Seminary will remain "a top priority" for him and he will do his utmost to give a new vitality and efficiency to the activities of the Seminary.

- Ecumenism has remained one of the main fields of the work of the Catholicosate. Since the fifties, its representatives, both clergy and lay people, have taken an active part in the meetings and conferences of the World Council of Churches. The ecumenical engagement of the Catholicosate was given a more organized form after 1962, when it became a member of this world family of churches. During the General Assembly held in Nairobi in 1975, Bishop Karekin Sarkissian (the actual Catholicos of Etchmiadzin) was elected a Vice-Moderator of the Central Committee (a position he held until 1983). At the last General Assembly in Canberra 1991, another member of the Catholicosate, Archbishop Aram Keshishian, was elected Moderator of the Central and Executive Committees (term ending in 1998), thus becoming the first Orthodox, the first Middle-Easterner and the youngest in age to reach the highest leadership position in the history of the World Council of Churches. The Catholicosate sent observers to the Second Vatican Council. The visits of the Catholicoi to Popes, as well as joint declarations, meetings and consultations with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church greatly contributed to the development of brotherly relations and theological dialogue between the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church on international, regional and local levels. The relations of the Catholicosate with the churches of the Middle-East have always been fraternal. As one of the initiators of the ecumenical movement in the region, the Catholicosate took an active part in the foundation of the Middle East Council of Churches in 1974. The Catholicosate has played a key role in promoting the theological dialogue between the two families of the Orthodox tradition: Eastern and Oriental. It has had a significant part in the development of a more organized collaboration among the Oriental Orthodox Churches particularly after the meeting of the Heads of these Churches in Addis Abeba, in 1965. The Catholicosate of Cilicia continues with growing impetus and interest its ecumenical relations with the Anglican Church and the other Churches of the Protestant tradition as well as with various ecumenical organizations. 

- Having its headquarters in the Arab world, the Catholicosate of Cilicia has brought its full participation in the major events of this part of the world. It has taken part in the struggle for independence of the Arab countries, mainly in Lebanon and Syria. It has strongly supported the Palestinian cause and worked for a just, comprehensive and permanent solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

. - Being a firm believer and defender of co-existence and dialogue, the Catholicosate of Cilicia has taken part in all efforts aiming at the strengthening of a shared and harmonious common life among religions, societies, cultures and civilizations in the Middle East.
Patriarchate of Jerusalem - Continue >
Courtesy of
The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia
Web site: www.cathcil.org
Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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