What is the Armenian Orthodox Church?
Question: "What is the Armenian Orthodox Church?"
Answer: The Armenian Orthodox Church (also called the Armenian Apostolic Church or the Georgian Church) is the official church of the Republic of Armenia but has adherents around the world. In the United States, it is referred to as the Armenian Church. The Armenian Church in the United States was organized by Armenian immigrants who came to escape persecution—and Armenians have been horribly persecuted in the last 200 years. The first Armenian Church in the U.S. was built in 1891 in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Armenian Church is a self-governing body within the Oriental Orthodox Church. Other churches within the same communion include the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox Churches, collectively known as “non-Chalcedonian churches” as they do not follow the decision of the Council of Chalcedon regarding the two natures of Christ.
The Armenian Church was founded in the fourth century after the conversion of King Tiridates III and his designation of Armenia as a “Christian nation.” (This happened a decade before Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, so Armenia considers itself the first Christian nation.) The Mother See of the church is the Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, near the Armenian-Turkish border. Built in the fourth century (but rebuilt in the sixteenth century), the Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the world. It is the home to the pontiff of the Armenian Church, “the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.”
The Armenian Church teaches a sacramental system of salvation. Through baptism, an infant (a “new Christian”) is brought into the life of the church. At the same time, the child is anointed with oil (a rite called chrismation) by which he is sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Throughout life, as sins are committed, one must do penance to be made whole again as a citizen of God’s kingdom.
Communion is the supreme means of grace and is an actual partaking of the body and blood of the Lord; this sacrament unites the participant with the Lord in a mystical union that is available no other way.
Marriage is the union of a man and woman for the mutual service of God. Holy Orders are for those who dedicate themselves to God for special service. In the Armenian Orthodox Church, marriage is allowable for those in holy orders.
Finally, anointing the sick is a means by which the body and soul can be healed.
In the Armenian Orthodox Church, salvation is seen as an openness to receive the grace of God and a willingness to repent without emphasis on one’s “state of grace.” The necessity of salvation by faith is emphasized, but it is a faith that produces good works and, in the teaching of the Armenian Orthodox Church, it seems that the production of good works is what ultimately determines one’s eternal destiny. Through one’s union with Christ (through religious observance) and participation in the life of the church, one is strengthened to live out his faith in such a way that final salvation is warranted.
Evangelicals agree with the position of the Armenian Church that genuine faith will produce good works (see James 2:14–26). The primary difference seems to be that Evangelicals stress the work of Christ on our behalf as the sole ground of salvation and that our works are a result of salvation. The Armenian Orthodox Church seems to emphasize that, although one does not “earn” salvation, it is the final trajectory of one’s life that determines one’s destiny, even though a “deathbed conversion” is a possibility. It is interesting that on the official website of the Armenian Church (American) there is no mention of Christ paying for sins by His death on our behalf. The emphasis is on union with Christ by faith and the resulting change of life that is necessary for salvation. The difference is subtle but all-important.
Recommended Resource: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 2d ed.: A Western Perspective by Daniel B. Clendenin
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Questions about Christianity
What is the Armenian Orthodox Church?