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2. Church officers and government

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXIII. Of the Armenian Church

2. Church officers and government

The Armenians are at present scattered among different nations, and subject to different political governments, by which their ecclesiastical polity is somewhat modified. Originally the church was placed under one head, styled caIholicos, who usually held his seat at the imperial residence. Subsequently several different catholicoses were created by parties rising up in different parts of the country, and taking advantage of the disturbed state of public affairs. At present there are three catholicoses, one at Echmiadzin (which is the greatest), one at Aghtamar, in 'the Lake Van, and one at Sis, in the ancient province of Cilicia.

The catholicos is the spiritual head of the church, or of that particular portion of it over which his jurisdiction extends. He only can ordain bishops, and consecrate the sacred oil which is used in various ceremonies of the church.

The Armenians at Constantinople, with all those in Turkey in Europe, and in Asia Minor, and Armenia Proper, were formerly under the jurisdiction of the catholicos of Echmiadzin; but since that see has fallen within the possessions of Russia, the Armenians in those parts of Turkey mentioned, have been ostensibly without any spiritual head; although there is still a secret connection between them and Echmiadzin and several vartabeds have lately gone to the latter place to be ordained bishops.

There are two patriarchs, it is true, one at Constantinople and the other at Jerusalem; but both these offices were established by Mohammedan authorities for their own convenience, and as neither of them has the power of ordaining bishops, they may be considered as only themselves holding the rank of bishops, ecclesiastically, though clothed with high political authority by the Turks.

The Armenian patriarch at Constantinople has the power of imprisoning and scourging at pleasure, members of his own flock, and until recently he could easily procure their banishment, from the Turkish authorities, whenever he pleased. The late charter given by the Sultan to his subjects will, however, if carried into effect, prevent him from doing this except on a regular trial before the Turkish courts.

It will be understood from what has been said that the form of government of the Armenian church is Episcopal. There are nine different grades of the Armenian clergy, all of which are set apart to their respective offices by the laying on of hands. Four of these are below the order of deacon, and are called porters, readers, exorcists, and candle-lighters. After these come the subdeacons, the deacons, then the priests, then the bishops, and last of all the catholicos. All below the bishop are ordained by the bishop, and he by the catholicos only. The catholicos is ordained by a council of bishops.

There is a class of ecclesiastics, called vartabeds, which may be considered as collateral with the order of priests. The difference between them is simply this: The priests are married, and in fact no man can be ordained priest, unless, at the time of his ordination, he has a wife. The vartabeds never marry, and have taken upon them the vow of perpetual celibacy. The priests always remain priests, and can never rise to the rank of bishop. The vartabeds may become bishops, and in fact, all the bishops are taken from that order, and are bound to celibacy. The vartabeds are the preachers,

(strictly speaking) but the priests never preach. The vartabeds live not among the people, but in convents where there are convents, or if not, they live by themselves within the church enclosures. The priests live in the midst of their flocks, and go in and out among them freely. In case the wife of a priest dies, he is not permitted to marry again, and he may then if he chooses become a vartabed.

There are also several subdivisions of grade among the vartabeds, each of which has its particular ordination service. One of these, called by way of distinction, The supreme order of Vartabed, is now practically unknown; though according to the rules of the church it should exist. The individual who fills this office, may be either a vartabed or a bishop. If the former, he may be ordained to it by a bishop; but if the latter, he must be set apart to this high dignity by the catholicos himself. Fie is considered by way of eminence as an apostolical preacher; and his labors are to be among the heathen alone. The spirit of missions is dead in the Armenian church; and therefore, they have no further employment for such a class of men.


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