Armenian Catholic Church

12.12.2009, 17:26

The Armenian Catholic Church (ACC) is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches. It began as a result of the union of part of the Armenian Apostolic Church with the Roman Apostolic See.

First contacts between Rome and the Armenian Church date back to the 12th century when the Crusaders stayed in the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia (southeast Asia Minor) with the capital in Sys. The union existed from 1198 to 1375. The second attempt to form a union occurred at the Council of Florence in 1439.

The number of communities of Armenian Catholics were increasing gradually, and in 1742 Pope Benedict XIV named Bishop Abraham Ardzivian patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians, with his see in Beirut (Lebanon) and jurisdiction over the southern part of the Ottoman Empire. Later, because of political complications in the empire, the See was moved to Constantinople (Istanbul). But it returned to Beirut in 1928 after the Turkish persecutions of Armenians at the end of World War I. At that time the church lost over 100,000 lay people, 130 priests and 7 bishops.

Today the church has about 150,000 faithful, most of whom live in the countries of the Near East. There is, however a large diaspora, particularly in North America, where the ACC has an exarchate. In 1991 an ordinariate for Armenian Catholics of Eastern Europe with its seat in Gyumri (Armenia) was created. It was later transformed into the eparchy of Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe, headed by Nerses Der Nerssesian. That same year Fr. Nishan Garagegian was named the apostolic visitator for the Armenian Catholics of Central Europe. Communities of Armenian Catholics exist in Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Romania and Hungary. Important research centers of the ACC are located in St. Lazarus' island in Venice and in Vienna.

The Armenian union developed in a different way in the western region of modern Ukraine. The Armenian (Gregorian) eparchy with jurisdiction over the territories of Rus, Moldova and Walachia (in present-day Romania) with the seat in Lviv had existed since the14th century. In 1630 its bishop, Mykola Torosovych, proclaimed union with Rome at the Lviv Cathedral of the Carmelites. In 1635 he repeated it in the presence of Pope Urban VII (1623-1644) after receiving the title of archbishop. Since then, on the territory of Poland a permanent union has existed between Armenians and Rome, although struggle between its supporters and opponents continued to the end of the century. The union furthered integration of the Armenian minority into Polish society but at the same time it led to its assimilation. At that time the Lviv archeparchy numbered about 3500 parishioners, 20 clergymen and 15 churches. It was subject directly to the Pope and existed until 1944. Over a period of three centuries 12 bishops headed of Lviv archeparchy.

In the first half of the 20th century there were approximately 5500 Armenian Catholics in Galicia (Halychyna). They had 9 churches and 16 chapels. The archeparchy included three deaneries: Lviv (parishes in Lviv, Berzhany and Lutsk), Stanislaviv (parishes in Stanislaviv, Lysts and Tysmenytsia), and Kuty (parishes in Kuty, Horodenka and Sniatyn). Beyond the borders of Galicia there existed communities in Chernivtsi, Suchava, Kamianets-Podilskyi, Proskuriv (Khmelnytskyi), Kharkiv (the chapel in the Roman Catholic Church) and possibly in other cities.

A weak organizational network of parishes and a limited number of parishioners resulted in low clergy numbers: eparchies averaged 20 priests, usually half of whom held bi-ritual faculties, many were invited from other eparchies and some were even priests of the Latin rite. Additionally, monastic life was poorly organized with the only Armenian Catholic monastery being that of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Lviv, where from 1918 to 1939 their numbers ranged from 11 to 19 sisters. They ran a private school, transformed in 1926 into a high school, which was certified as a public school and known for its high level of education. The Yosyf Torosevych boarding house provided poor students of Armenian descent with lodging and board. Boys of the Latin rite received assistance there as well.

Just prior to World War II, Archbishop Yosyf Teodorovych died and there was no time to appoint a new archbishop. From 1939 to 1945 the Church weakened significantly. Due to military conflicts, first German and then Soviet, the number of clergy was halved. Fr.Dionisii, the administrator of the archeparchy, was arrested on 4 May 1945 and exiled to Siberia where he died in 1954. In 1945, eight priests and most of their parishioners immigrated to Poland. The next year the sisters of St. Benedict followed their example.

Following Ukrainian independence, the Armenian Catholic Church has been gradually reviving, with the first community registering in 1991 in Lviv. This was a small community of about twenty to thirty parishioners without a pastor. For this reason the attempt to return the cathedral building to their control met with failure. The overwhelming majority of the present Armenian minority in Ukraine belongs to the Apostolic faith. They recently immigrated to Ukraine and have nothing in common with the ancient settlers.

In Autumn 2001, Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia and the head of the Armenian Catholic Church arrived in Ukraine intending to visit the centers of Armenian Christians, scattered all over Ukraine. See RISU's article of 12 November 2001 for more about this visit.