Church of Arran

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The Church of Arran is an oldest church in the world. It was established by Apostle Bartholomew in Baku, and St.Elisha in the village of Kish, north of Azerbaijan. It was a sister church of the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church in Transcaucasia that eventually joined the Oriental Orthodox communion before dying out after the gradual Islamisation of population and its further amalgamation with the Church of Armenia in 1836, when the tsar Nicolas I of Russia signed "the Decree on managing the affairs of the Armenian-Gregorian Church in Russia" ("Положение о управлении делами Армяно-Григорианской церкви в России"). The Church of Arran was re-established in Azerbaijan in 2003 as the Church of Caucasian Albania-Udi. In 2013 during 1700-th anniversary of establishing christianity in Azerbaijan, the grand opening of the Church of Arran took place in the village of Nij.

Contents

Early history

The kingdom of Arran, better known in English as 'Caucasian Albania' (Latin - Albania Caucasia, Greek - Kαυκάσιος Αλβανία), is said to have been first evangelized by the Holy Apostle Bartholomew and a disciple of St. Thaddeus, St. Elisha, who is called the 'Apostle of Arran.' The nation as a whole did not convert until shortly after the conversion of neighboring Armenia, with the Arsacid King Urnayr being baptized by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 313.

In 330, a grandson of St. Gregory, St. Grigoris, became the first bishop and Catholicos of Arran, which included much of modern day Azerbaijan, south Dagestan and east Armenia. St. Grigoris was martyred in 338 while preaching in Dagestan, but his relics were rescued by his disciples and kept at the Amaras Monastery in west Azerbaijan. In the following years the position of the Catholicate strengthened, being established at the Arranian capital Qabala.

Arran suffered a similar fate to neighboring Armenia, rising with it against the Sassanian Empire in the 400s and being crushed by its shahs as a result. In the 400's St. Mesrob Mashtots most likely systematised an already existing Arranian alphabet so that the Bible, divine services, and writings of the Fathers could be translated. St. Mesrob Mashtots did not know Arranian, so he could not have developed a new alphabet as it might appeared in some Armenian sources. In 552 the seat of the Catholicoses of Arran was transferred to Barda, remaining there until the 800s.

In the 600s Arran regained its independence under King Javanshir, but then fell to the Arab Muslims not long after their conquest of the Sassanian Empire. Beginning in the 700s the Arab rulers began forcibly converting sections of the population to Islam. Under influence of the Armenian Catholicos, the Caliphate forced the Arranian Catholicos to accept the supremacy of the catholicoses of Echmiadzin. During this period, much of the Arranian Holy books and scriptures were exterminated by the Church of Armenia to subdue the Church of Arran.

During the catholicate of Catholicos Nerses I overtures were made to the East Roman Empire regarding the acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon by the Church of Arran, but this was met with outrage by the hierarchy and nobility of the country, who appealed to Catholicos Sion I (Bavonatsi) of All the Armenians for help. In response Catholicos Sion convened a council in Partav that rejected Nerses' Christology, confirmed the Church's adherence to the Christological teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria, and enacted canons concerning marriage.

Although the Council of Barda upheld the Christology of the Church it at the same time seriously weakened its autocephaly, especially as the Armenians enjoyed greater favor with the caliphs as a consequence of the council. (The Caliphate had feared that Arran would become an ally of the East Roman Empire if it accepted Chalcedon.) At the Barda Council it was decreed that thereafter the Catholicos of Arran would be enthroned by the Catholicos of All the Armenians. In the aftermath of the Council, the remnants of the Arranian christian population gradually absorbed, those converted to Islam eventually merged with their ethnic brothers - the larger muslim Azeri population, and those who remained faithful to Orthodoxy eventually joined the Armenian and Georgian Churches. The recent DNA analysis of the Armenians in Qarabag (Arsak), and eastern part of The Republic of Armenia confirms that theory. Their DNA showed closer ties with the neighbouring Azerbaijani population than the Armenians living across Middle East.

Later history

In the 1300s the Catholicate transferred its seat from the Amaras Monastery to the Gandzasar Monastery, becoming known thereafter as the Catholicate of Gandzasar. By this time the Catholicate only retained jurisdiction over the historic west Azerbaijan provinces of Utik, Arsak and Sunik as well as the small number of Orthodox living between these provinces and the Caspian Sea. When the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia fell to the Mamelukes there was thought of merging the Catholicate of All the Armenians, which had moved to Cilicia in the 900s, with the Catholicate of Gandzasar, but it was decided instead to return the Catholicate to its original seat in Echmiadzin.

The Gandzasar Catholicate rose in prominence again in the early 1700s under Catholicos Yesai (Jalalian). During this period its catholicos was recognized as the sole representative of the Armenian Orthodox Church by the Russian Empire. In 1805 its territories were taken from Persia by Russia, however, and in 1815 the tsars lowered the rank of the catholicos to metropolitan in response to pressure from the Catholicos-Patriarch of Echmiadzin. The Metropolitan of Gandzasar nevertheless retained jurisdiction over the canonical territory of the Catholicate until 1836, when an imperial decree abolished the remnants of the Church of Arran altogether and reorganized them as a diocese directly under the authority of Echmiadzin.

Church today

The last former seat at Gandzasar now serves as the seat of the Diocese of Artsakh of the Catholicate of Echmiadzin (the Church of Armenia). However, today the Arranian christian heritage survives directly in the Azeri Orthodox Christian community and the 10,000-strong Udi minority of Azerbaijan, who have begun restoring with the help of the government of Azerbaijan the ancient churches around Gabala (an ancient capital of Arran) which are now part of the Apostolic Church of Arran. The full translation and printing of Bible in Azerbaijani was completed in 1984. In addition to these , in early 1980's the manuscripts of the Arranian Orthodox Church (the Arranian alphabet of these manuscripts is much different than St. Mesrob's attested alphabet kept in Echmiadzin) have been discovered in St. Catherine's Orthodox Monastery on Mount Sinai.

Cross of Arran

The cross itself represent the greek cross with flour-de-lis at its ends, which represents a fire or a flame - a common symbol in Azerbaijan and the present symbol of Baku. The Cross of Arran can be seen in the Round Temple (Shaki), Kish, Nij and other places across Azerbaijan. The Cross of Arran was adopted by the Order of Calatrava (a Spanish military order from Castile) in 1164, and Patek Philippe and Co. (Swiss luxury watch manufacturer) was using it as a company logo since 1851.

List of the heads of the Church

  • St. Bartholomew
  • St. Elisha
  • Matthew
  • Isaac
  • Karen
  • Pandas
  • Lazarus
  • St. Grigoris
  • Zachary
  • David
  • John
  • Jeremiah (circa 434)

Catholicoses of Arran

  • Abas (551-595)
  • Viro (595-629)
  • Zachary I (629-644)
  • John I (644-671)
  • Uhtanes (671-683)
  • Eleazar (683-689)
  • Nerses I (689-706)
  • Simeon I (706-707)
  • Michael (707-744)
  • Anastasius I (744-748)
  • Joseph I (Hovsep) (748-765)
  • David I (765-769)
  • David II (769-778)
  • Matthew I (778-779)
  • Moses I (779-781)
  • Aaron (781-784)
  • Solomon I (784)
  • Theodore (784-788)
  • Solomon II (788-789)
  • John II (Hovhannes) (799-824)
  • Moses II (824)
  • David III (824-852)
  • Joseph II (852-877)
  • Samuel (877-894)
  • Hovnan (894-902)
  • Simeon II (902-923)
  • David IV (923-929)
  • Isaac (Sahag) (929-947)
  • Gagik (947-958)
  • David V (958-965)
  • David VI (965-971)
  • Peter I (971-987)
  • Moses III (987-993)
  • Mark, Joseph III, Mark, Stephen I (from 993 to 1079)
  • John III (1079-1121)
  • Stephen II (1129-1131)
  • Gregory I (circa 1139)
  • Bezhgen (circa 1140)
  • Nerses II (1149-1155)
  • Stephan III (1155-1195)
  • John IV (1195-1235)
  • Nerses III (1235-1262)
  • Stephen IV (1262-1323)
  • Sukyan and Peter II (circa 1323-1331)
  • Zachariah II (ok.1331)
  • David VII
  • Karapet (1402-1420)
  • John V (circa 1426-1428)
  • Matthew II (circa 1434)
  • Athanasius II, Gregory II and John VI (1441-1470)
  • Azaria
  • Thomas (circa 1471)
  • Aristakes I
  • Stephen V (circa 1476)
  • Nerses IV (circa 1478)
  • Shmavon I (circa 1481)
  • Arakel (1481-1497)
  • Matthew III (ok.1488)
  • Aristakes II (1515-circa 1516)
  • Sergius (Sarkis) I (circa 1554)
  • Gregory III (circa 1559-1574)
  • Peter III (1571)
  • David VIII (circa 1573)
  • Philip
  • John VII (1574-1584)
  • David IX (circa 1584)
  • Anastasius II (circa 1585)
  • Shmavon II (1586-1611)
  • Aristakes III Kolataktsi (circa 1588)
  • Melkiset Arashetsi (circa 1593)
  • Simeon III (circa 1616)
  • Peter IV Hondzaksky (1653-1675)
  • Simeon IV Hotorashensky (1675-1701)
  • Jeremiah Hasan Jalal (1676-1700)
  • Isaiah Hasan Jalal (1702-1728)
  • Nerses V (1706-1736)
  • Israel (1728-1763)
  • Nerses VI (1763)
  • John VIII Gandzasar (1763-1786)
  • Simeon V Hotorashenksky (1794-1810)
  • Sergius II Gandzasar (1810-1828, with title of metropolitan after 1815)

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