The Armenian Apostolic Church (Armenian: Հայաստանեայց Առաքելական Եկեղեցի, Hayasdaneaytz Arakelagan Yegeghetzi) is the world's oldest national church  and one of the most ancient Christian communities.
The official name of the church is the One Holy Universal Apostolic Orthodox Armenian Church  . It is sometimes referred to as the Gregorian Church, but the latter name is not preferred by the church, as it views the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus as the founders, and St. Gregory the Illuminator as merely the first official head of the church.
Various legends tie the origin of the Armenian church to the apostles. Apostolic succession is an important concept for many churches, especially those in the east. The legend of the healing of Abgar V of Edessa by the facecloth of Jesus has been appropriated by the Armenian church by claiming that Abgar was a prince of Armenia. The more common tradition claims that Thaddeus, one of the Seventy Apostles was sent to Armenia from nearby Edessa by Abgar (uncle of King Sanatrook of Armenia) to evangelize. The details of the story vary widely, but in all stories Thaddeus converted Sandookdht the king's daughter. In some versions Sanatrook was also converted, but later apostasized. In other versions, he was never converted, but was always hostile to Christianity. In any case, Sanatrook martyred both Thaddeus and Sandookdht. Some versions have the apostle Bartholomew arriving in Armenia about the same time to also be martyred. Though these stories are considered historically questionable by modern scholars, the church in Armenia had to have begun early as persecutions against Christians in 110, 230, and 287 were recorded by outside writers Eusebius and Tertullian.
The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion  when St. Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III and members of his court, an event traditionally dated to AD 301 (after Mikayel Chamchian 1784) though now believed by most scholars to have occurred somewhat later, but by 314. Gregory, trained and ordained in Christianity at Caesarea returned to his native land to preach about 287, the same time that Tiridates III took the throne. Tiridates owed his position to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a noted persecutor of Christianity. In addition, he became aware that Gregory was a son of Anak, the man who assassinated his father. Consequently Tiridates imprisoned Gregory in an underground pit, called Khor Virap, for 13 years. In 301, 37 Christian virgins, fleeing Roman persecution, came to Armenia. Tiridates desired one of them, Rhipsime, to be his wife, but she turned him down. In a rage, he martyred the whole group of them. Soon afterward, according to legend, God struck him with an illness that left him crawling around like a beast. The story is reminiscent of Nebudchadnezzar in Daniel 4. Xosroviduxt, the king’s sister, had a dream in which she was told that the persecution of Christians must stop. She related this to Tiridates, who released Gregory from prison. Gregory then healed Tiridates and converted him to Christianity. Tiridates immediately declared Armenia to be a Christian nation, becoming the first official Christian state.
Tiridates declared Gregory to be the first Catholicos of the church and sent him to Caesarea to be consecrated. Upon his return, Gregory tore down idol centers, built churches and monasteries, and ordained hundreds of priests and bishops. While meditating in the old capital city of Vagharshapat, Gregory had a vision of Christ coming down to the earth to strike it with a hammer. From the spot rose a great Christian temple with a huge cross. He was convinced that God wanted him to build the main Armenian church there. With the king’s help, he did so, along the lines of what he saw in the vision at the spot he saw the hammer strike. He renamed the city Etchmiadzin which means “the place of the descent of the only-begotten”.
Initially the Armenian church participated in the larger church world. Its Catholicos was represented at the First Council of Nicea and the First Council of Constantinople. Although he could not attend the Council of Ephesus, the Catholicos Isaac Parthiev sent a message agreeing with its decisions. The Armenian church began to retreat from the larger church world in 373 when King Pap appointed the Catholicos Yusik without first sending him to Caesarea for commissioning.
Christianity was strengthened in Armenia by the translation of the Bible into the Armenian language by the Armenian theologian, monk and scholar St. Mesrob Mashtots. Until the fifth century, Armenia had its own spoken language, but not written. The Bible and liturgy were in Greek. The Catholicos Sahak commissioned Mesrob to create an Armenian alphabet, which he completed in 406. Subsequently the Bible and liturgy were translated into Armenian and written down in its new script. This began a cultural renaissance with the production of a host of Armenian literature.
Unlike other eastern churches, the Armenian Bible originally had 39 books in the Old Testament. What are commonly called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books were not translated until the 8th century and not read in the churches until the 12th century.
Historically, the Armenian Church has been referred to as monophysite by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians because it (as well as all Oriental Orthodox Churches) rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, which condemned the belief of one incarnate nature of Christ (monophysis). The Armenian Church officially severed ties with Rome and Constantinople in 554, during the second Council of Dvin where the dyophysite formula of the Council of Chalcedon was rejected due to its acceptance by Nestorians.
However, the Armenian Orthodox Church argues that this is an incorrect description of its position, as it considers Monophysitism, as taught by Eutyches and condemned at Chalcedon, a heresy and only disagrees with the formula defined by the Council of Chalcedon. The Armenian Church instead adheres to the doctrine defined by Cyril of Alexandria, considered as a saint by the Chalcedonian Churches as well, who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature, where both divine and human nature are united (miaphysis). To distinguish this from Eutychian and other versions of Monophysitism this position is called miaphysitism. Whereas the prefix "mono" refers to a singular one, the prefix "mia" refers to a compound one.
In recent times, both Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian churches have developed a deeper understanding for each other's positions, recognizing their substantial agreement while maintaining their respective theological language. Hence, the "Monophysite" label is avoided when describing the Oriental Orthodox belief of the Armenian Church regarding the Nature of Christ.
The Armenian Apostolic Church, is the central religious authority for Armenian Orthodox population in the Republic of Armenia as well as for Armenian Orthodox communities worldwide.
It is headed by a Catholicos (the plural is Catholicoi). Although it is traditional in Eastern churches for the supreme head of the church to be named Patriarch, in the Armenian Apostolic Church hierarchy, the position of the Catholicos is higher than that of the Patriarch. The Armenian Apostolic Church presently has two catholicoi (His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; and Aram I,Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia), and two patriarchs, plus Primates, Archbishops and Bishops, lower clergy and laity serving the church.
The Catholicos of All Armenians represents the centralized authority of the Armenian Church. He is the supreme judge and the head of the legislative body. He is President of the Supreme Spiritual Council as well as the College of Bishops. Ordination of bishops, blessing of Holy Chrism, proclamation of Feasts, invitation and dismissal of National-Ecclesiastical Assemblies, issuing decrees concerning the administration of the Armenian Church and establishing dioceses are part of his responsibilities.
Both clergy and lay are involved in the administrative structure of the Church. Led by His Holiness Karekin II, the spiritual and administrative work of the Armenian Church is carried out in the Republic of Armenia in the areas of Religion, Preparation of Clergy, Christian Education, Construction of new Churches, Social Services, and Ecumenical activities. Underneath this administrative structure are the hierarchal Sees:
The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia located in Antelias, Lebanon, is a regional See with current jurisdiction of the Dioceses of Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus as temporarily granted to her by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1929, is led by Catholicos Aram I.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem which has jurisdiction over all of the Holy Lands and the Diocese of Jordan, is led by Patriarch Archbishop Torgom Manoogian.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople and All of Turkey, which has jurisdiction in the modern day Republic of Turkey, is led by Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan.
The three historic aforementioned hierarchal sees administer to the Dioceses under their jurisdiction as they see fit, however, the supremacy of the Catholicosate of All Armenians in all spiritual matters remains pre-eminent. In addition to the responsibilities of overseeing their respective Dioceses, each hierarchical See, and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, has a Monastic Brotherhood.
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin operates two seminaries, the Gevorkian Theological Seminary at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and the Vaskenian Theological Academy at Lake Sevan. Over a 6 year course of simultaneous study, students receive both a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree in Theology. The Great House of Cilicia operates one seminary, the Seminary of Antelias at Bikfaya, Lebanon. Upon graduation, students receive the equivalent of a high school diploma and pre-graduate theological study. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem operates the St. Tarkmanchatz School (high school diploma) and the Theological Seminary of the Patriarchate (pre-graduate study). The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople has suspended the operation of their seminary, Holy Cross Patriarchal Seminary, since 1971.
Regionally, each area of the world where the Armenian Church and faithful are located has Dioceses, which are led by a Primate from the Diocesan Headquarters. Each Diocese is made up of Parishes and communities.
The spiritual and administrative bodies representing the authority of the Armenian Church are the following:
The National Ecclesiastical Assembly is the supreme legislative body presided over by the Catholicos of All Armenians. The members of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly are elected by the individual Diocesan Assemblies. The National Ecclesiastical Assembly elects the Catholicos of All Armenians.
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 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, His Holiness Gevorg V. Soorenian established the Supreme Spiritual Council on January 1, 1924, to replace the Synod of Bishops.
The Diocesan Assembly is the highest legislative (canonical) body of each Diocese and is headed by the Primate of the Diocese. The Diocesan delegates (representatives of each parish community) elect the delegates to the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, the members of the Diocesan Council as well as discuss and decide on administrative issues within the Diocese such as committees, budgets, building, etc. In some Dioceses, the Diocesan Assembly elects the Primate of the Diocese.
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 the Abbot. At present, there are three brotherhoods in the Armenian Church - the brotherhood of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the brotherhood of St. James at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the brotherhood of the See of Cilicia. Each Armenian celibate priest becomes a member of the brotherhood in which he has studied and ordained 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.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of a few apostolic churches in the world to have a democratic system; the people decide if they want to keep priests in their churches and may ask for different ones, as do some other ecclesiastical constitutions, such as Baptists and other Congregational churches.
Note that the Armenian Apostolic Church should not be confused, however, with the Armenian Catholic Church whose Patriarch-Catholicos (of the Armenian Catholic Rite) is Nerses Bedros XIX, which is an Eastern Catholic church in communion with the Holy See in Rome.
The Armenian Apostolic Church currently has two 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 See of Cilicia, located in Antelias, Lebanon, which administers to the Dioceses under its jurisdiction as they see fit. The two Sees are as follows:
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin (Armenian: Մայր Աթոռ Սուրբ Էջմիածին ) is the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Church, the center of the faith of the Armenian nation – the Mother Cathedral of the Armenian Church, and the Pontifical residence of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin is a blend of the past, present and future of the world-wide Armenian Church.
Preserving the past are the numerous museums, libraries and the Mother Cathedral itself, all holding a vast richness of history and treasures. The Mother See is responsible for the preservation of artifacts, both those created by the Church and those given to the church as gifts over time. Carrying on the work of the present and future are the innumerable departments and programs of the Armenian Church. Under the leadership and guidance of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Mother See administers to social, cultural and educational programs for Armenia and the Diaspora.
The Mother Cathedral, founded by the Descent of Christ, has stood as a symbol against time of the Armenian faith, nation and people. The Cathedral is the most recognized landmark of the Armenian Church. Built and consecrated by St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Trdat the Great in AD 303, the Cathedral is located in the city of Vagharshapat.
St. Gregory chose the location of the Cathedral in accordance with a vision that he had. 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 the Only-Begotten Son of God descended.
The Mother Cathedral is open to the faithful everyday from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday starting at 11:00 a.m., except on Feast Days or special occasions when it starts at 10:30 a.m. Morning services are conducted starting at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Evening Services are conducted at 5:30 p.m. every day.
The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia (Armenian: Կաթողիկոսութիւն Հայոց Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ ) located in Antelias, Lebanon, is a regional See of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is an autonomous church mostly related to certain segments of the Armenian diaspora.
Catholicos Aram I is the current head and Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia. The church has current jurisdiction of Dioceses and Prelacies in Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, Greece, Iran, the Arab Gulf, United States, Canada and Venezuela.  In the United States and Canada, there are also Prelacies and Dioceses that are related to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, thus duality of representation of Armenian Apostolic churches in these two countries.
The primacy of honor of the Catholicossate of Etchmiadzin (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Great House of Cilicia.
Historic presentation of the Holy See of Cilicia as an autocephalous church is as follows: After the fall of Ani and the Armenian Kingdom of Bagradits in 1045, masses of Armenians migrated to Cilicia. The Catholicossate, together with the people, settled there. The seat of the church (now known as The Catholicossate 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 in Sis (1293), the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.
After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, in 1375, the Church also assumed the role of national leadership, and the Catholicos was recognized as Ethnarch (Head of Nation).
In 1441, a new Catholicos was elected in St. Etchmiadzin in the person of Kirakos I Virapetsi of Armenia. At the same time residing Catholicos in Sis Gregory IX Mousabegian (1439-1446) remained as Catholicos of Cilicia. Therefore, since 1441, there have been two Catholicossates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. The city of Sis (modern-day Kozan, Adana, Turkey) was the center of the Catholicossate of the Great House of Cilicia for more than 6 centuries starting 1293, when the Catholicossate moved from Hromgla to Sis.
In the First World War, most notably in 1915, the Armenian population and the monastery of St. Sophia of Sis, home of the Catholicossate (which dominated 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). Sahak II followed his Armenian flock in exile from Turkey.
The divisions of the two Catholicossates stem from frequent relocations of the Church headquarters because of political and military upheavals.
The schism was further reinforced during the period in which Armenia was part of the Soviet Union when various churches affiliated with one of the two Holy Sees of the church.
Despite efforts of reunion, the division continues to date, although significantly, in the nineties, Karekin II Catholicos of Cilicia for the period 1983-1994, was elected upon the death of Vazgen I, as new Catholicos of All Armenians in 1995 becoming Karekin I Catholicos of All Armenians residing in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and serving as Supreme head of the church until 1999. He was not able however to unite the two Catholicossates despite having headed both.
The Armenian Apostolic Church also has two Patriarchates of high authority both under the jurisdiction of the Catholicos of All Armenians. They are:
Liturgically speaking, the Church has much in common both with the Latin rite in its externals, especially as it was at the time of separation, as well as with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. For example, their bishops wear mitres almost identical to those of Western bishops. They usually do not use a full iconostasis, but rather a curtain (which was also used in the West at the time of separation). The liturgical music is Armenian chant.
Armenian priests below the rank of bishop are allowed to be married before ordination and their descendants' surnames are prepended with the prefix "Ter" (or "Der" in Western Armenian), meaning "Lord", to indicate their lineage.
Today there are large Armenian Apostolic congregations in many countries outside Armenia, including Russia, Iraq, Georgia, France, the United States, Lebanon, Syria, Canada, Australia, Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Belgium, Egypt, Estonia, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, Uruguay and others.
Also of particular importance are the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in Turkey and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Iran (see also Christians in Iran). These churches represent the largest Christian ethnic minority in both of these predominantly Muslim countries, Turkey and Iran.
Apostolic Churches in Asia