Monday, March 11, 2013

Approval of the Polozhenye (Statute) of the Armenian Church - March 11, 1836

The Russian Empire conquered Eastern Armenia between 1805 and 1828. Bishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi (1771-1857) had supported the Russian conquest of Eastern Armenia in the belief that liberation from Persian rule would bring greater freedom to the Armenian people. However, he had been blindsided; his opposition to General Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich (1782-1856), who was the commander of the Caucasian front during the Russo-Persian and Russo-Turkish wars of 1826-1829, earned him to be exiled to Besarabia as primate of the Armenian diocese in 1828. 

The Russian government immediately took measures to regulate its relations with the Catholicosate of All Armenians, headquartered in Holy Etchmiadzin. Paskevich obtained special permission from the government to establish a set of rules. He formed a four-member committee in 1829, which produced a statute of the Armenian Church on January 8, 1830. 

The preliminary version was revised in Saint Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, and after certain changes it was presented to Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855), who approved it on March 11, 1836. These bylaws, officially titled “On the Management of the Spiritual Activities of the Armenian Gregorian Church,” were included in the eleventh volume of the Russian code, and popularly known as Polozhenye (“statute,” in Russian). (The name “Gregorian” is a misnomer of the Armenian Church, as it was not founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator, but by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew.)
The Polozhenye, composed of 141 articles, greatly reduced the political powers of the Armenian religious leadership, including that of the Catholicos, while preserving the autonomy of the Armenian Church. It established a Synod that would oversee the activities of the Catholicos. After 1836, in agreement with the new regulation, the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin was to be elected in congresses in Etchmiadzin, in which religious and non-religious dignitaries would participate. 

Nerses Ashtaraketsi, elected Catholicos of All Armenians in 1843 (1843-1857) fought to restore the rights of the Catholicos curtailed by the Polozhenye. Realizing that one tyranny had been replaced with another, Catholicos Nerses frequently overlooked the Russian-approved statutes and worked on his own. He concentrated all ecclesiastical power in his hands and did not complete the members of the Synod. He made sure that the resolutions of the Synod were not approved and thus reduced its effectiveness to naught. He even wrote a new statute for the Armenian Church that was not submitted to the government for approval, but he used it as the Church’s own guideline.  

Nevertheless, the Polozhenye continued to be applied in Eastern Armenia until the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917.