1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mechitharists

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MECHITHARISTS, a congregation of Armenian monks in communion with the Church of Rome. The founder, Mechithar, was born at Sebaste in Armenia, 1676. He entered a monastery, but under the influence of Western missionaries he became possessed with the idea of propagating Western ideas and culture in Armenia, and of converting the Armenian Church from its monophysitism and uniting it to the Latin Church. Mechithar set out for Rome in 1695 to make his ecclesiastical studies there, but he was compelled by illness to abandon the journey and return to Armenia. In 1696 he was ordained priest and for four years worked among his people. In 1700 he went to Constantinople and began to gather disciples around him. Mechithar formally joined the Latin Church, and in 1701, with sixteen companions, he formed a definitely religious institute of which he became the superior. Their Uniat propaganda encountered the opposition of the Armenians and they were compelled to move to the Morea, at that time Venetian territory, and there built a monastery, 1706. On the outbreak of hostilities between the Turks and Venetians they migrated to Venice, and the island of St Lazzaro was bestowed on them, 1717. This has since been the headquarters of the congregation, and here Mechithar died in 1749, leaving his institute firmly established. The rule followed at first was that attributed to St Anthony; but when they settled in the West modifications from the Benedictine rule were introduced, and the Mechitharists are numbered among the lesser orders affiliated to the Benedictines. They have ever been faithful to their founder’s programme. Their work has been fourfold: (1) they have brought out editions of important patristic works, some Armenian, others translated into Armenian from Greek and Syriac originals no longer extant; (2) they print and circulate Armenian literature among the Armenians, and thereby exercise a powerful educational influence; (3) they carry on schools both in Europe and Asia, in which Uniat Armenian boys receive a good secondary education; (4) they work as Uniat missioners in Armenia. The congregation is divided into two branches, the head houses being at St Lazzaro and Vienna. They have fifteen establishments in various places in Asia Minor and Europe. There are some 150 monks, all Armenians; they use the Armenian language and rite in the liturgy.

See Vita del servo di Dio Mechitar (Venice, 1901); E. Boré, Saint-Lazare (1835); Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1907) I. § 37; and the articles in Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchenlexicon (ed. 2) and Herzog, Realencyklopädie (ed. 3), also articles by Sargisean, a Mechitharist, in Rivista storica benedettina (1906), “La Congregazione Mechitarista.”  (E. C. B.)