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The Armenian Apostolic Church

There are no official census statistics on religious affiliation in Armenia, but it is generally assumed that about 90% of the population nominally belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Out of a total population of three million, in 2006 the Catholics (Latin and Armenian rite) claimed 120,000 members, charismatic groups 10,000, Jehovah’s Witnesses 8,750, and Armenian Evangelicals 8,000.

The 1700th anniversary of the acceptance of Christianity as Armenia’s state religion was celebrated in 2001 with great solemnity and included the consecration of a large new cathedral in Yerevan. Pope John Paul II, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Russia, and many other prominent church leaders visited Armenia in the fall of that year.

The Armenian liturgy includes elements of the Syriac, Jerusalem, and Byzantine traditions. While a distinctive Armenian liturgical tradition was being formed in the 5th to the 7th centuries, there was strong liturgical influence from Syria and Jerusalem. Later there was a period of byzantinization, and finally, during the Middle Ages, many Latin usages were adopted.

The Catholicos of All Armenians in Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia, is recognized by all Armenian Orthodox as the spiritual head of the church The Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has jurisdiction over Armenians throughout the former USSR and much of the diaspora, including Iraq, India, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas. It includes about 5,000,000 faithful. In addition, the two Armenian Patriarchates are dependent in spiritual matters on Etchmiadzin. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has its headquarters at St. James monastery in that city and is responsible for the holy places that belong to the Armenian Church. It includes the perhaps 25,000 Armenian faithful in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Patriarch Nourhan Manougian of Jerusalem was born in 1948 and elected in 2013. The Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul) has jurisdiction over Turkey and the Greek island of Crete. In 1914 this patriarchate included 12 archdioceses, 27 dioceses, and six monasteries with approximately 1,350,000 faithful. Today only the Patriarchate itself remains, with a flock of about 82,000. Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan was born in 1956 and elected in 1998. In 2008 he withdrew from public ministry because of severe health problems; Archbishop Aram Ateshian (born 1954) has been serving as patriarchal vicar directing the daily affairs of the church since that time.

There is also the Catholicosate of Cilicia, based in Antelias, Lebanon. It is in full communion with the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin but is administratively independent. It has jurisdiction in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Iran, and Greece, and has about 800,000 members. Cilicia has had a history of tension with Etchmiadzin, and both maintain separate jurisdictions in North America, Greece and Syria. Delegations from the two Catholicosates have met to try to overcome those differences and strengthen the unity of the Armenian Church. Efforts to draft a common constitution for the Armenian Church that would normalize relations between Etchmiadzin and Cilicia are also underway. Catholicos Aram I Keshishian (born 1947) was elected in 1995.

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