Catholicosate of Cilicia

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Coptic Orthodox Cross
Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.

The Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia is an autonomous jurisdiction of the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Coptic Orthodox Cross

Churches of the Oriental
Orthodox Communion

Autocephalous Churches
Armenia | Alexandria | Ethiopia | Antioch | India | Eritrea
Autonomous Churches
Armenia: Cilicia | Jerusalem | Constantinople
Antioch: Jacobite Indian

Early History

The Armenian Orthodox Church as a whole was established through the preaching of the Holy Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew in Armenia and the conversion of the Armenian nation in 301 thanks to the witness of St. Gregory the Illuminator. St. Gregory became the first Catholicos of Echmiadzin and All the Armenians. Over the following centuries the Orthodox Faith became firmly implanted throughout Armenia, with the catholicoses leading the Church of Armenia from Holy Echmiadzin. As the Armenian capital shifted, however, so too did the seat of the catholicate, moving first in 483 to Dvin and then in the 900s to Dzoravank, Aghtamar, Arghina, and Ani.

Move of the Catholicate to Cilicia

In 1045 the city of Ani and with it the kingdom of Armenia fell to the Seljuk Turks, with much of the Armenian nation fleeing their from homelands in eastern Anatolia and resettling in Cilicia. The Catholicate moved with the nation, settling first in Thavblour in 1062 and then in Dzamendav (in 1072), Dzovk (in 1116), Hromkla (in 1149), and Sis (in 1293), where it remained for nearly 700 years.

The early Cilician period of the Armenian Orthodox Church was a fruitful period, witnessing the establishment of a new Armenian kingdom of Cilicia and the ecumenical dialogues between the Roman Emperor Manuel Comnenus and the Catholicoses Krikor (Gregory) III, Nerses IV, and Krikor IV. After the fall of Armenian Cilicia in 1375 the catholicoses became the ethnarchs of the Armenian nation, assuming civil as well as ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Armenians of Cilicia.

Establishment of Two Catholicates

Following the fall of Armenian Cilicia the region became a battleground between the Seljuk Turks, the Mamelukes, and other Muslim powers. In the meantime Armenia itself had become relatively peaceful again and many Armenians began returning to their homelands. This return of the 'center of gravity' of the Armenian nation to Armenia eventually prompted the bishops there to elect a Catholicos of Echmiadzin and All the Armenians in 1441. Since that time the Armenian Orthodox Church has been led by two catholicoses, one with a primacy of honor in Echmiadzin and another in Cilicia with equal rights and privileges as the Catholicos of Echmiadzin.

Transfer of the Catholicate to Lebanon

During the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turks and Kurds during World War I over 1.5 million Armenians were massacred. Cilicia's Armenians were initially sheltered by the French forces occupying the region, but following their evacuation in 1921 a second wave of massacres began that resulted in the death of a further 300,000 Armenians. Virtually all of the surviving Armenians of Cilicia and Turkish Armenia fled their homelands and took refugee in Syria and Lebanon, with Catholicos Sahag II of Sis leading his flock into exile.

After several years in Syria and Lebanon, in 1930 Catholicos Sahag established a new seat for the Catholicate of Sis in Antelias, Lebanon. Over the following years new dioceses were organized, a seminary and printing press were founded in Antelias, and a cathedral for the Catholicate was built with a chapel dedicated to the Armenian New Martyrs of the Genocide. In the time since the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cilicia has flourished in both the Middle East and worldwide despite the political troubles experienced by Lebanon.

Catholicate Today

The Catholicate of Cilicia today is divided into 14 dioceses, prelacies, and vicariates serving the Armenian nation in Cyprus, Greece, Iran, the Levant, North and South America, and the Persian Gulf. The current first hierarch of the Catholicate is Catholicos Aram I (Keshishian) of Sis, who resides at the new seat of the Catholicate in Antelias, Lebanon.


  • Diocese of Aleppo
  • Diocese of Azerbaijan
  • Diocese of Cyprus
  • Diocese of Damascus
  • Diocese of Greece
  • Diocese of Isfahan
  • Diocese of the Jazirah
  • Diocese of Kuwait
  • Diocese of Lebanon
  • Diocese of Tehran
  • Prelacy of Canada
  • Prelacy of the Eastern United States
  • Prelacy of the Western United States
  • Vicariate of Venezuela

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