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The Oriental Orthodox Churches / Armenian Apostolic Church

Armenian Apostolic Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 10 million of which two thirds are to be found in the worldwide diaspora
Title of First HierarchSupreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians
See of the First HierarchEtchmiadzin (Armenia)
Current incumbentKarekin II. (Nersissian), born 1951, in office since 1999
Bishops and dioceses72 bishops; 52 dioceses; of which 37 in the Catholicate of Etchmiadzin (13 in Armenia, 24 in Diaspora), 11 in the Catholicate of Cilicia, 2 in the Patriarchate of Constantinopel, 2 in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Liturgical languageOld Armenian (Grabar)
CalendarGregorian (in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem: Julian)
Presence in Austriaapprox. 8000 faithful; 3 communities, 2 priests
Presence in Germanyapprox. 70.000 faithful; episcopal see in Cologne (since 1992); 16 communities, 7 priests, 17 deacons

The Armenian Apostolic Church was the first Christian church to be recognized by a state (in 301 by the King Trdat III). Its founding dates back to the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomeus. The foundation for the development of the Armenian Christianity was laid by Gregory the Illuminator, who is also considered to be the first bishop of the Armenian Church. During the 6th century, the Armenian Church, whose ecclesiastical center, at the time, was situated in the Sassanian Empire, rejected the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. Therefore, the Armenian Church is counted among the Oriental Orthodox Churches until today.

Due to changing political power relations, the see of the Catholicos, namely, the title of the first Hierarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, was repeatedly forced to relocate, among others to the Kingdom of Cilicia (Lesser-Armenia) at the Southeast of modern-day Turkey. During the 14th-15th century, the conflicting interests of the rulers led to the fragmentation of the ecclesiastical structure: in 1311, the Egyptian Mamluks established the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 1441, was the Catholicate once more transferred to Etchmiadzin, an action which was not accepted by the Catholicate of Cilicia, and henceforth, there were two separate catholicates. In addition to that, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople was established by the Ottoman sultan in 1461. The jurisdiction of the different Armenian Catholicates and Patriarchate were partially overlapping each other which inevitably promoted the in between them competition and caused in some instances the existence of parallel church structures.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the genocide of the Armenian people in what is now Turkey led to a relativization of the differences within the church and strengthened the solidarity of the Armenians, who now mainly reside in the worldwide diaspora. In the Soviet Republic of Armenia, Catholicos Vasken I (1955-1994) gradually stabilized and renewed church life after Stalin's death. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the church recovered its leading position in the Armenian society. In 1995, the election of the former Catholicos Karekin of Cilicia to succeed Vasken I restored full church communion between the two Armenian Catholics. The Armenian Apostolic church undertook a decisive role for the opening of the Oriental Orthodox Church to the ecumenical movement.


  • H. Harutyunyan, Armenische Kulturvereine und Kirchengemeinden in Deutschland, in: Orthodoxie in Deutschland, hg. v. Th. Bremer, A.E. Kattan und R. Thöle, Münster 2016, 251-273.
  • S. Isakhanyan, Armenisch-Apostolische Orthodoxe Kirche, Yerevan 2012.
  • M.K. Krikorian, Die Armenische Kirche, Frankfurt a.M. ²2007.
  • M. Tamcke (Hg.), „Dich, Ararat, vergesse ich nie!“ Neue Beiträge zum Schicksal Armeniens und der Armenier, Berlin 2006.
  • Karekin I. – Katholikos aller Armenier, Herausforderung zur Erneuerung. Für ein neues Zeitalter in der Armenischen Kirche, Köln 1998.
  • F. Heyer (Hg.), Die Kirche Armeniens, Stuttgart 1978.