THE ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH AND THE CONCEPT OF THE NATIONAL CHURCH

In the Bible, the “nations” – French translation of the Greek term of ethnos (nation, people, family or any multitude from the same kinship) – designate the pagan peoples. When St. Paul uses the expression Churches of Nations (Rm 16,4), he designates the Christian communities established outside the land of Israel and thus signifies that the Church of the Old Testament, that of the Hebrew people, has become the Church of the baptized of all nations. Now, the universality of the Church is inseparable from its unity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither man nor woman; for all you are one in Jesus Christ “(Gal 3,28, Co 3,11). Saint Paul thus formulates, not an ideological concept, but the lived experience of the Church. This is why the Christian Church – a community of the faithful united by and around Christ – has spontaneously constituted itself into local churches of territorial jurisdictions, bringing together all the baptized persons of the same place, of all ethnic origins and all languages: within each city in the Roman Empire (churches of Corinth, Rome, Ephesus …) or by province or country, where the urban fabric was underdeveloped (Churches of Armenia, Persia, Georgia, Albania, Gaul, Ireland …). The boundaries of ecclesiastical jurisdictions generally followed administrative and political boundaries: Western Armenia thus naturally came under the jurisdiction of the Greek Church when the Roman Empire annexed it in two stages, between 69 and 79 for the Armenia minor, then in 387 for Armenia magna. Conversely, the Church of Armenia exercised jurisdiction over all Christian communities, Armenians and non-Armenians, Persians (that is, Armenia independent but under Persian tutelage), as well as the churches. Georgia and Albania. The Church being united, the Christians included the Church of the place where they resided, like the Hripsimian saints, who, seeking refuge in Armenia, passed from the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome to that of the Church of Rome. Armenia, of which they became major figures. Such a territorial organization allowed unity, universality and specificity at the same time. Members of the same Church, each community rooted and transmitted the teaching of Christ in the language and culture of the place, with intonations of its own.

Schisms brought the first blows to the principle of territoriality: on the same territory, confessional communities emerged. The Byzantine Church thus extended its jurisdiction to the chalcedonian communities of Persarmenia. Later, the Catholic Church did its utmost to divide and rally the faithful of the Churches of the Christian East (Uniatism), notably creating an Armenian Catholic Church. From this first breakup of the principle of territoriality, dates the extraterritorial and confessional jurisdiction of the Christian Churches, each exercising their jurisdiction over their respective communities, wherever they may be. We are not always aware that this schema, fruit of division and sin, is contrary to the unity of the Church, and that it persists, in particular because the differences between Churches are still numerous and, for some, really founded.

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