Church of Arran

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Coptic Orthodox Cross

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Orthodox Communion

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Antioch: Jacobite Indian

The Church of Arran was a sister church of the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church in Transcaucasia that eventually joined the Oriental Orthodox communion before gradually dying out along with the Arranian nation after the Muslim conquest of the region.

Early History

The kingdom of Arran, better known in English as 'Caucasian Albania,' 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 (called Aghvank by the Armenians), which included much of modern day Azerbaijan and Artsakh. 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 western Arran (modern day Artsakh). 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. Like Armenia, in the 400s St. Mesrob Mashtots developed an alphabet for the Arranian language so that the Bible, divine services, and writings of the Fathers could be translated. In 552 the seat of the Catholicoses of Arran was transferred to Partav (the modern city of Barda), remaining there until the 800s.

In the 600s Arran regained its independence under King Jevanshir, but then quickly fell to the Arab Muslims not long after their conquest of the Sassanian Empire. Beginning in the 700s the kingdom's new rulers began forcibly converting sections of the population to Islam. This, coupled with the proximity of Armenia to the west, the Arranian catholicoses acceptance of the supremacy of the catholicoses of Echmiadzin, and the later turkification of the population would eventually lead to the almost complete extinction of the Arranian nation and the dissolution of the Arranian Church.

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 Partav 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 Partav 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 Arranian nation gradually disappeared, those converted to Islam eventually disappearing into what became the Azeri people and those who remained faithful to Orthodoxy eventually becoming one with their Armenian coreligionists, though Arranian continued to be spoken into the 1200s.

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 armenianized Catholicate only retained jurisdiction over the now Armenian-speaking provinces of Utik and Artsakh 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

Although the Catholicate has not been revived, its former seat at Gandzasar now serves as the seat of the Diocese of Artsakh of the Catholicate of Echmiadzin. The Arranian nation survives directly today in the 8,000-strong Udi minority of Azerbaijan, which today has begun restoring the ancient churches around Gabala (an ancient capital of Arran) and largely belongs to the Eparchy of Baku of the Russian Orthodox Church. In addition to these living remnants of the Arranian Orthodox Church, Arranian-language manuscripts (written in St. Mesrob's alphabet) have recently been discovered on Mount Sinai.

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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