Nerses the Gracious

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St. Nerses the Gracious is an influential theologian, hymnographer, and saint of the Armenian Orthodox Church who served as Catholicos of Hromkla and All the Armenians in the 12th century.

Life

St. Nerses, called Shnorhali or 'the Grace-filled,' was born in 1100 in Hromkla, which at the time served as the capital of the Armenian Principality (and later kingdom) of Cilicia. He was taught by his great-uncle, Catholicos Krikor (Gregory) II of Hromkla, and the Vartabed Stephen Manuk. When he grew older he was consecrated to the episcopacy by his brother, Catholic Krikor III Bahlavouni, and was sent to preach throughout Cilicia. In 1141 he was an observer at the Council of Antioch of the Roman Catholic Church (held during the Crusader occupation of the Levant).

In 1166, St. Nerses was elected Catholicos of Hromkla and All the Armenians. During his catholicate he continued the ecumenical dialogue begun by his brother with Roman Emperor Manuel Comnenus and the Greek Orthodox Church. The emperor's representative was deeply impressed by St. Nerses' explanation of the Christology of the Armenian Orthodox Church, which he quickly realized was not Monophysite at all, and requested that he write it down for examination by the emperor in Constantinople.

St. Nerses' "Profession of Faith of the Armenian Church" was consequently sent to Constantinople, where it was well received by both Emperor Manuel and the Ecumenical Patriarch Michael. This began a series of exchanges between the Churches of Constantinople and Armenia, with the two concluding that neither was heretical in its Christology, Constantinople accepting that the Armenians did not teach the absorption of the Lord's human nature into his divine nature and the Armenians accepting that Constantinople did not believe in the division of the Lord into two persons. (This dialogue ultimately bore no fruit as Emperor Manuel died and subsequent political events in the empire made its continuation impossible.)

His ecumenism aside, St. Nerses is also remembered for being a prolific writer, poet, and hymnographer. The current structure and many of the hymns of the Arevakal or Sunrise Service of the Armenian Rite (celebrated on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent) are attributed to him, as are a number of other beautiful prayers. St. Nerses the Gracious reposed in 1173.

Quotes

"If one says 'one nature' in the sense of unmixable and indivisible union and not in the sense of confusion, and if one says 'two natures' as being without confusion and without alteration and not meaning 'division' [then] both are within the orbit of Orthodoxy."

"When you see the cross, know and believe that you are seeing Christ enthroned on it; when you pray before the cross, believe that you are doing so concerning Christ our God and not with inanimate matter. For it is Christ Who receives the veneration you offer before the cross; and it is He Who hears the supplications of your mouth and fulfills the desires of your heart, which you ask with faith. Whoever does not honor the cross, or insults it, insults Christ Himself."

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