THE HIERARCHY OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
The Church is an organized society. It is composed of all the baptized persons who are united in the same Faith, the same Holy Communion, the same Sacraments, and under the same Ecclesiastical authority. Those who exercise this ecclesiastical authority form the clergy of officers of the Church who serve God, teach and sanctify the faithful, and govern the Church. This authority to serve, to teach, to sanctify and to govern is not given by election or appointment, but by a sacred sacrament called Ordination and Consecration.
It is true that by Baptism all Christians are endowed with the “priesthood” of laymen, who have thus the obligation to offer up to God the spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayers and acts of faith, hope, and charity. Only those men who receive the sacrament of the Holy Orders are clergyman of God in the full sense of the word.
A Bishop always administers the Sacrament of Ordination and Consecration. There are various ranks of clergy within the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, and consequently, there are various services which each grants one of these ranks. However, the one act that is common to all the ranks is the “Laying of the hands” (Tzernatroutiun in Armenian) by the Bishop. By placing his anointed right hand on the ordinate, this continues the unbroken Apostolic succession of authority, granted by the apostles to the first Bishops of the Church, and carried on today through Ordination and Consecration.
For the ordination of any cleric, except a bishop, one bishop is sufficient to administer the Sacrament. His Holiness the Catholicos, having at least two other Bishops assisting him at the Ordination and Consecration, performs the Ordination and Consecration of a Bishop, according to the rules of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church.
The Ordination and Consecration of the Holy Orders is one of the important sacraments of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church. Through the Ordination and Consecration, men receive the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, as well as the authority to pass it to others through sacraments, ordination and anointing with chrism and to perform the sacred duties of a clergyman of the Church. Ordination is a sacrament by which the Holy Spirit offers the elected person the right to perform the sacraments and to feed Christ’s flock.
Before entering the major ranks of ecclesiastical order of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, a person must have been ordained to the minor ranks. However, the First Christian Church had three main ecclesiastical orders Diaconate, Priesthood, and Bishopric. Over time, ecclesiastical orders have increased, and the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church today has nine degrees, similar to the nine classes of angels․
D) Candle Bearer,
* Today, these ranks of ecclesiastical order is in fact conditional, as the first four degrees are given at once. One who receives these four minor ranks is known as a CLERK. The next ranks of Sub-Deacon and Deacon are given almost simultaneously. Instead, the rank of URARAKIR arose, bringing candidate closer to the rank of Deacon.
CLERK: Through the minor orders, the Clerk is conferred special privileges, which are the foundation of his service to the church as a participant during the worship services. There are four distinct functions of a Clerk: Doorkeeper, Reader, Exorcist and Candle Bearer.
SUB-DIACONATE: The requirements for ordination to the Sub-Diaconate are extensive. The candidate should already have received the minor orders before receiving the rank of Sub-Deacon. There are some responsibilities that a Sub-Deacon may share with a full Deacon; however, there are limitations to his responsibilities and authority because this office does not reflect the fullness of one who has become a deacon. The sub-Diaconate is a transitional rank between Clerk and full Deacon in which a young man is preparing himself for fuller service to the church. Sub-Diaconate wears an urar (bazkurar) on the left arm during rituals (the urar is a narrow, long ribbon for the deacon's robe, symbolizing the yoke of Christ), which means that the person is willing to carry a quarter of the yoke of Christ. Nowadays, the rank of the Sub-Diaconate has almost lost its significance. The rank of URARAKRI arose, by which the candidate approaches the main ecclesiastical order of Diaconate.
DIACONATE: The word deacon is derived from the Greek word diոkonos, which is a standard ancient Greek word meaning “servant”, “waiting-man”, “minister”, or “messenger.” In the beginning, the Apostles were the sole ministers in the Church. They were teachers, sanctifiers and rulers in the Church. They even saw to the material needs of the faithful. However, as the membership of the Church increased, the Apostles created other officers to assist them. The first order thus established was that of Deacon. The first deacons were elected by the faithful and were appointed and ordained by the Apostles to distribute aid, as well as to serve the public dinner tables at which Holy Communion was administered (Acts 6:1-7).
At present Deacons, assist the priests in the Church during celebration of the Divine Liturgy, by singing, censing and bringing the gifts to the Holy Altar. During the ordination, the Bishop endows Deacons with the following ritual privileges; reading of the Gospel, raising to the Holy Sacrament, as well as to help the priests in his pastoral activity in general. In the past, there were FEMALE DEACONS, in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, who were obliged to make a vow of celibacy and live in monasteries. The rank of Deacons is given by the ordination by the Bishop.
PRIESTHOOD: The Priesthood is the initial order of the hierarchical structure. The priest is to administer and provide for spiritual renewal and education of the faithful, as well as to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and perform the sacraments, and special services.
The Apostles also chose, appointed and ordained other assistants to help them in baptizing the converts, in administering the Holy Communion and for other functions in the Church. These men were called Elders. They were the predecessors of our present day Priests.
The Priests administer all the sacraments except the Holy Orders and are the shepherds and the leaders of the local churches under the Bishop. In the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, the priest receives his authority from a Bishop through Ordination and Consecration with the Holy Chrism (Muron). During the sacrament of Ordination and Consecration to the priesthood, the Bishop places his hand on the head of the candidate. This is called Tzernatroutiun in Armenian. The sacrament of Ordination and Consecration takes place during the Divine Liturgy. The Bishop, while clothing the candidate with priestly vestments, anoints with chrism his forehead and palms in the form of the cross.
There are both secular (married) and celibate (unmarried) priests in the Armenian. According to tradition, in order to be ordained consecrated as a secular (married) priest, the candidate should be married for at least one year and have a child. A widowed priest can become a monk or marry for a second time, according to the regulation decreed by Catholicos of All Armenians Kevork V (1911-1930).
Secular (married) priests with great merit and due to his long service, upon to the request of Primate of Diocese and with the blessing of the Catholicos, can be granted the right to wear the Pectoral Cross and Phelonian and to receives the title of Archpriest (Senior Priest).
ABEGHA /HIERMONK/MONK: “Abega” translates from Assyrian to mean “unmarried, single”. In the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, the celibate priest receives his authority from a Bishop through Ordination and Consecration with the Holy Chrism (Muron) too. During the sacrament of Ordination and Consecration to the priesthood, the Bishop places his hand on the head of the candidate. The sacrament of Ordination and Consecration of the celibate priest also takes place during the Divine Liturgy. The Bishop, while clothing the candidate with priestly vestments, anoints with chrism his forehead and palms in the form of the cross. A celibate priest is given the title of Monk, in Armenian “Abegha”
Abegha (celibate priest) declares a vow of celibacy the same evening on the day of his Ordination and Consecration and is given a “veghar” (a special head-cover, which symbolizes his renunciation of worldly things)
Due to his scholastic, pedagogical and scientific activity, the celibate priest receives a scholastic degree. The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church gives her Abegha (celibate priest) two scholarly degrees and only Abegha (celibate priest) can receive scholarly degrees:
- ARCHIMANDRITE (VARDAPET) - Upon successful completion and defense of a written thesis, on a topic of his choosing, the Abegha (celibate priest) receives the rank of Archimandrite (Vardapet). This indicates that he is a “Master in Divinity” of the Church. He also receives the right to carry the staff with two-headed sneak on it (without the cross in the middle), which symbolizes wisdom and authority to teach and to preach the word of Lord.
- PROTO ARCHIMANDRITE OR SENIOR ARCHIMANDRITE (DZAYRAGUYN VARDAPET) - Upon successful completion and defense of a written doctoral thesis, on a topic of his choosing, the Abegha (celibate priest) receives the rank of Proto Archimandrite or Senior Archimandrite (Dzayraguyn Vardapet). This indicates that he is a “Doctor in Divinity” of the Church. He also receives the right to carry the staff with two-headed sneak on it (with the cross in the middle), which symbolizes wisdom and authority to teach and to preach the word of Lord.
*These degrees of Master/Doctor of Divinity are not given through performing of the sacrament of the Ordination and Consecration; the Bishop or the Catholicos give these degrees during the special service called Tvchutyun in Armenian. There are academic degrees in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.
Bishops and Catholicos can give these degrees only when they themselves have attained the rank of Proto Archimandrite or Senior Archimandrite (Dzayraguyn Vardapet). Note, that not all Bishops and Catholicos have these degrees.
BISHOPRIC/EPISCOPACY: The Apostles did not stay permanently in a town or country. They were ordered by our Lord to go to all parts of the world to preach the Gospel. Therefore, before leaving a town or country, where they had already established a flourishing church, they used to appoint an able and dependable person to supervise the Christian communities of the area to act with full authority in the name of the Apostles. These men were the successors to the Apostles in their own locality, such as a large town, a province, or even a state.
They were called Bishops, Episcopos, which is a Greek word meaning “overseer”. Episcopacy symbolizes the union of the Church. TheBishop is at the head and the spiritual leader of all the churches of the same political-geographical regions, the Dioceses. Bishops, with the full power of the Apostles, are the governors of various Diocese of the Church.
Bishops alone administer the Holy Orders. According to the canons of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, Bishops alone are authorized to ordain and consecrate clergy, churches, monasteries, chapels, altars, baptismal fonts, etc. Even in the early years of the Church, Bishop could ordained and consecrate other Bishops as well. However, nowadays, in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church the Bishop is Ordained and Consecrated by the Catholicos of All Armenians at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. During the ordination and consecration, the Bishop receives an Episcopal staff and a ring as signs of his authority. Typically, bishops are elected from among those celibate priests who have achieved the rank of Archimandrite (Vardapet) and Proto Archimandrite or Senior Archimandrite (Dzayraguyn Vardapet).
Within the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, as well as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Moravian, Anglican, Old Catholic, Assyrian Church of the East, Bishops claim apostolic succession, a direct historical lineage dating back to the original Twelve Apostles.
ARCHBISHOP/ARCHEPISCOPACY: “Arch” or “Arch” means “a great one”, that is, a Bishop who has one or more Bishops under his administrative authority. At present, the rank of Archbishop has become a simple title. Greeks use the word Metropolitan instead of Archbishop. At present, in the Armenian Church "Archbishop" is an honorary title given by His Holiness the Catholicos to those bishops who are distinguished by their position or good works. Archbishops are consecrated by the Catholicos of All Armenians, and their rank is awarded through Pontifical Encyclical.
PATRIARCH: The word Patriarch is derived from Greek patriarchēs, meaning “chief or father of a family”, a compound of patria, meaning “family”, and archein, meaning “to rule.”
Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater family over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is termed patriarchy. Historically, a patriarch has often been the logical choice to act as ethnarch of the community identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (such as Christians within the Ottoman Empire). The term developed an ecclesiastical meaning, within the Christian Church. The office and the ecclesiastical circumscription of a Christian patriarch is termed a patriarchate.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period during which they lived is termed the Patriarchal Age. The word patriarch originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible.
The office of Patriarch is the highest in the Greek Church. In the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church however, the Patriarch is an Archbishop who has been elected to serve as the Patriarch of one of the historical patriarchal Sees of Jerusalem or Constantinople. Patriarchs are independent in all administrative matters within the areas of their own jurisdiction. The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church has two patriarchal sees:
- The Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church of Jerusalem (from the 1st century to the present).
- The Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church of Constantinople (from 1453 to the present).
Patriarchates are historical thrones, whose thrones are called patriarchs, who differ from bishops in their presbytery (their title is retained upon resignation).
CATHOLICOS: Unlike the other Christian Churches, in the hierarchy of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church the Catholicos of All Armenians, a Greek term signifying “Universal Leader of the Church”, is the head of the Church. He ranks higher than Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops in the Armenian Church. He is typically chosen from the College of Bishops, and once elected is regarded as the “FIRST AMONG EQUALS.” The Catholicos is consecrated by 12 bishops.
The Catholicos represents the centralized authority of the Armenian Church. He is the supreme judge and the head of the legislative body. Ordination of bishops, blessing of chrism, proclamation of feasts, invitation and dismissal of National-Ecclesiastical Councils, issuing decrees concerning the administration of the Armenian Church and establishing dioceses are all within his jurisdiction and responsibility. The National Ecclesiastical Assembly (Nea) elects the Catholicos for life.
THE FUNCTIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
The functional structure of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church is primarily based on the canons and established traditions of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, which were formulated over the centuries. One of the most important aspects of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church administration is its conciliar system. In other words, the administrative, as well as doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical norms are set and approved by a council - collective and participatory decision-making process. Indeed, conciliarity in decision-making is a significant aspect in the Book of Acts 15. The Council of Bishops (or Synod) is the highest religious authority in the Church.
The norms of the administrative structure of the church go back to the Apostolic times. The apostles continued the mission entrusted to them by Christ. Eventually, as the church progressed from being a persecuted entity of believers to an institutionalized organization, the rules and admonitions of “the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:6) were integrated in the canon books of Christian churches, including the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church.
THE NATIONAL ECCLESIASTICAL ASSEMBLY (NEA): - the highest legislative body of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church - is made of two-thirds lay representatives of the Armenian nation and one-third clergymen. Delegates to the NEA are elected by the Diocesan Assemblies of the dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church or communities around the world. Every Bishop in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church is automatically a member of the Assembly. The Catholicos - or in his absence the Locum Tenens - is ex-officio president of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly. The primary function of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly is to elect a successor to a deceased Catholicos. The last three the National Ecclesiastical Assemblies were convened in 1955, 1995 and 1999 to elect the Catholicos of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin, Armenia.
THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS - is an administrative-deliberative body presided over by the Catholicos of All Armenians. It makes suggestions on the dogmatic, religious, church, parish and canonical issues to be discussed as agenda items during the National Ecclesiastical Assembly.
THE SUPREME SPIRITUAL COUNCIL - is the highest executive body of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church and is presided over by the Catholicos of All Armenians. The members of the Council can be elected by the National Ecclesiastical Assembly or appointed by the Catholicos of All Armenians. The Catholicos of All Armenians, Gevorg V. Soorenian established the Supreme Spiritual Council on January 1, 1924, to replace the Synod of Bishops.
THE DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY - consists of lay delegates elected by the Parish Assemblies. Every diocesan clergy is automatically a member of the Assembly. The Diocesan Primate is ex-officio president of the Diocesan Assembly.
THE DIOCESAN COUNCIL - is the highest executive power of a diocese, presided over by the Primate of the Diocese. It regulates the inner administrative activity of the Diocese under the direction of the Primate. The Diocesan Assembly elects members of the Diocesan Council.
THE MONASTIC BROTHERHOOD - consists of the celibate clergy of the monastery who are led by an abbot. There are four brotherhoods in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church:
- THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE MOTHER SEE OF HOLY ETCHMIADZIN
- THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE GRATE HOUSE OF CILICIA.
- THE BROTHERHOOD OF ST. JAMES AT THE PATRIARCHATE OF ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ORTHODOX HOLY CHURCH OF JERUSALEM
- THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE PATRIARCHATE OF THE ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ORTHODOX HOLY CHURCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Each Armenian celibate priest becomes a member of the brotherhood in which he has studied and ordained and consecrated in or under the jurisdiction of which he has served. The brotherhood makes decisions concerning the inner affairs of the monastery. Each brotherhood elects two delegates who take part in the National Ecclesiastical Assembly.
THE PARISH ASSEMBLY - is the general assembly of the community presided over by the spiritual pastor. The Parish Assembly elects or appoints the members of the Parish Council and the representatives or delegates to the Diocesan Assembly.
THE PARISH COUNCIL - is the executive-administrative body of the community. It is presided over by the spiritual pastor of the community who takes up the inner administrative affairs of the parish and is engaged in the realization of its administrative and financial activities. Members of the parish council are elected or appointed at the parish assembly.
Note: the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church should not be confused, with the Armenian Catholic Church whose Patriarch-Catholicos (of the Armenian Catholic Rite) is an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Holy See in Rome.
TWO CATHOLICOSATES: The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church currently has two Holy Sees, with the Catholicos of All Armenians residing in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, having pre-eminent supremacy in all spiritual matters over the Catholicosate of The Great House of Cilicia, located in Antelias, Lebanon, which administers to the Dioceses under its jurisdiction as they see fit.
The two Holy Sees are as follows:
- MOTHER SEE OF HOLY ETCHMIADZIN - is the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, the center of the faith of the Armenian nation – the Mother Cathedral of the Armenian Church, and the Pontifical residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians. Under the leadership and guidance of the Catholicos of All Armenians, the Mother See administers social, cultural and educational programs for Armenia and the Diaspora. It is said that St. Gregory chose the location of the Cathedral in accordance with a vision. In his dream he saw “Miatsin”, the Only Begotten Son of God, with glittering light on his face descending from the Heavens and with a golden hammer striking the ground where the Cathedral was to be located. Hence comes the name “Etchmiadzin”, which translates literally to “the place” where Miatsin descended.
- SAINT GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR CATHEDRAL (1940) IN ANTELIAS, LEBANON: The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia located in Antelias, Lebanon, is a regional See of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church and is an autonomous church with jurisdiction over certain segments of the Armenian Diaspora. The See has jurisdiction over prelacies in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, the Persian Gulf, the United States, Canada and Venezuela. In the United States, Canada, Syria, and Greece there are also Dioceses that are related to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, so there is duality of representation of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church in these countries.
The primacy of the Catholicosate of All Armenians (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia. The rise of the Great House of Cilicia as an autocephalous church occurred after the fall of Ani and the Armenian Kingdom of the Bagradits in 1045. Masses of Armenians migrated to Cilicia and the Catholicosate was established there. The seat of the church (now known as the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia) was first established in Sivas (AD 1058) moving to Tavbloor (1062), then to Dzamendav (1066), Dzovk (1116), Hromgla (1149), and finally to Sis (1293), then-capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Beginning in 1293 and continuing for more than six centuries, the city of Sis (modern-day Kozan, Adana, Turkey) was the center of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.
After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, in 1375, the Church continued in its leadership role in the Armenian community, and the Catholicos was recognized as Ethnarch (Head of Nation).
In 1441, Kirakos I Virapetsi of Armenia was elected Catholicos in Holy Etchmiadzin. At the same time the residing Catholicos in Sis, Gregory IX Mousabegian (1439–1446), remained as Catholicos of Cilicia. Since 1441, there have continued to be two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church, each having rights and privileges, and each with its own jurisdiction.
During the First World War and the 1915 Armenian Genocide, the Armenian population and the home of the Catholicosate at the Monastery of St. Sophia of Sis (which can be seen to dominate the town in early 20th-century photographs), was destroyed. The last residing Catholicos in Sis was Sahag II of Cilicia (Catholicos from 1902 to 1939), who followed his Armenian flock into exile from Turkey.
Since 1930, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia has been headquartered in Antelias, Lebanon.