The Armenians marked their complete disruption with the Greeks by starting an era of their own at the synod of Dvin. The era began on the 11th of July 552, and their year is vague, that is to say, it does not intercalate a day in February every fourth year, like the Julian calendar.
The two churches of Iberia and Albania at first depended on the Armenian for ordination of their primates or catholici, and in large part owed their first constitution to Armenian missionaries sent by Gregory the Illuminator. The Iberians still reverence as saints the Armenian doctors of the 5th century, but as early as 552 they began to resent the dictatorial methods of the Armenians, as well might a proud race of mountaineers who never wholly lost their political independence; and they broke off their allegiance to the Armenian see very soon afterwards, accepted Chalcedon and joined the Byzantine church. The Albanians of the Caucasus were also converted in the age of Gregory, early in the 4th century, and were loyal to the Armenians in the great struggle against Mazdaism in the 5th; but broke away for a time towards 600, and chose a patriarch without sending him to Armenia for ordination. Eventually this interesting church was engulfed by the rising tide of Mahommedan conquest, but not before one of their bishops, named Israel, had converted (677–703) the Huns who lay to the north of the Caspian and had translated the Bible and liturgies into their language. If the Albanian and Hunnish versions could be found, they would be of the greatest linguistic importance.
The mother church of Armenia was established by Gregory at Ashtishat in the province of Taron, on the site of the great temple of Wahagn, whose festival on the seventh of the month Sahmi was reconsecrated to John the Baptist and Athenogenes, an Armenian martyr and Greek hymn writer. The first of Navasard, the Armenian new year’s day, was the feast of a god Vanatur or Wanadur (who answered to Ζεὺς ξένιος) in the holy pilgrim city of Bagawan. His day was reconsecrated to the Baptist, whose relics were brought to Bagawan. The feast of Anahite, the Armenian Venus and spouse of the chief god Aramazd, was in the same way rededicated to the Virgin Mary, who for long was not very clearly distinguished by the Armenians from the virgin mother church. The old cult of sacred stones and trees by an easy transition became cross-worship, but a cross was not sacred until the Christ had been, by priestly prayer and invocation, transferred into it.
What was the earliest doctrine of the churches of Armenia? If we could believe the fathers of the 5th and succeeding centuries Nicene orthodoxy prevailed in their country from the first; and in the 5th century they certainly chose for translation the works of orthodox fathers alone, such as Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Jerusalem and Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius, Julius of Rome, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, avoiding Origen and other fathers who were becoming suspect. However, we do hear of versions of Nestorian writers like Diodore of Tarsus being in circulation, and the Disputation of Archelaus proves that the current orthodoxy of eastern Armenia was Adoptianist, if not Ebionite in tone. The Persian Armenians as late as the 6th century had not heard of the faith of Nicaea, and only then received it from the catholicus Babken. They sent a copy of their old creed to Babken, and it closely resembles the Adoptianist creed of Archelaus, the gist of which was that Jesus, until his thirtieth year, was a man mortal like other men; then, because he was righteous above all others, he was promoted to the honour and name of Son of God. He received the title by grace, but was not equal to God the Father. Because the Spirit worked with him, he was able to vanquish Satan and all desires, and because of his righteousness and good works he was made worthy of grace and became a Temple of God the Word, which came down from heaven in Jordan, dwelt in him and through him wrought miracles. From such a standpoint the baptism of Jesus was the moment of the divine incarnation. The man righteous above all others was then reborn of the Spirit, was illuminated, was spiritually anointed, became the Christ and Son of God. In effect the fathers of the Armenian church often fell back into such language, far removed as it is from orthodoxy; and they emphasized the importance of the baptismal feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January by refusing to accept the feast of the physical birth of the 25th of December. As late as 1165 their patriarch Nerses defends the Armenian custom of keeping Christmas on the 6th of January on the express ground that as he was born after the flesh from the Virgin, so he was born by way of baptism from the Jordan. The custom from the first, he says, had been to feast on one and the same day the two births, much as they differed in sacramental import and in point of time. We see how deep the early Adoptianism had struck its roots, when a primate of the 12th century could still appeal to the baptismal regeneration of Jesus. The same Nerses held that the second Adam, Jesus Christ, received a new body and nature and the sevenfold grace of the Spirit in the Jordan. The Armenian doctors also taught that John by laying hands on Jesus and ordaining him at his baptism sacramentally transferred to him the three graces or charismata of kingship, prophecy and priesthood which had belonged to ancient Israel. After baptism, if not before, the flesh of Christ was incorruptible. It consisted of ethereal fire, and he was not subject to the ordinary phenomena of digestion, secretions and evacuations.
Monastic institutions were hardly introduced in Armenia before the 5th century, though Christian rest-houses had been erected along the high-roads long before and are mentioned in the Disputation of Archelaus. The Armenians called them wanq, and out of them grew the monasteries. The monks were, strictly speaking, penitents wearing the cowl, and not allowed to take a part in church government. This belonged to the elders. At first there was no separate episcopal ordination, and the one rite of elder or priest (Armen. Qahanay, Heb. cohen) sufficed. There were also deacons, half-deacons and readers. Besides these there was a class of wardapets or teachers, answering to the didascalos of the earliest church, whose province it was to guard the doctrine and for whom no rite of ordination is found in the older rituals.
A few other peculiarities of Armenian church usage or belief deserve notice. In baptism the rubric ordains that the baptized be plunged three times in the font in commemoration of the entombment during three days of the Lord. In the West trine immersion was generally held to be symbolic of the triune name of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” This name the Armenians have used, at least since the year 700; before which date their fathers often speak of baptism into the death of Christ as the one essential. As late as about 1300 a traveller hostile to the Armenians reported to the pope that he had witnessed baptisms without any trinitarian invocation in as many as three hundred parish churches.
The paschal lamb is now eaten on Sunday, but until the 11th century, and even later, it was eaten with the Eucharist at a Lord’s Supper celebrated on the evening of Maundy Thursday after the rite of pedilavium or washing of feet. On the morning of the same day the penitents were released from their fast.
The rite of extreme unction was introduced in the crusading epoch, although it was already usual to anoint the bodies of dead priests. The worship of images never seems to have taken root among Armenians; indeed they supplied the Greek world with iconoclast soldiers and emperors. The worship of crosses into which the Spirit or Christ had been inserted by the priest must have satisfied the religious needs of a people who, save in architecture, showed little artistic faculty. In their older rituals we find a rite for blessing a painted church, but no word of statues. Frescoes in their churches are rare, and mostly too high up for veneration to be paid to them.
On certain days the cross was washed, and the water in which it had been washed was a sovereign charm for curing sickness in men and animals and for bringing fertility to the land.
In the older rituals we find a rite of exhomologesis, for restoring those who had sinned after baptism. It was a medicine of sin that could only be used once and not a second time. In form it is a rehearsal of the first baptismal rite, but with omission of the water. It involved like the first rite open confession and repentance, and absolution by the church. In a later and less rigorous age this rite was abridged and adjusted to constant