In the nineteenth century, the Armenian Church did not have an institution that provided superior religious education and prepared its future members. At the beginning of his tenure, Catholicos Kevork IV (1866-1882) met Russian czar Alexander II (1855-1881) and asked for permission to found such an institution. The construction of the lyceum (jemaran) started on May 25, 1869 and the grand opening was held five years later, on September 28, 1875. The bylaws approved by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Empire in the same year established that the lyceum would have two sections: a six-year school and a three-year auditory, and would provide higher religious education. After the death of the Catholicos, the lyceum was named in his honor.
Despite many efforts, Kevork IV did not see any graduate becoming a celibate priest during his tenure. A secularist spirit predominated in the lyceum. His successor Magar I (1885-1891) played an important role to redirect the institution into its actual purpose. He invited a qualified faculty, which included Bishop Maghakia Ormanian, future Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. The latter became the teacher of theological subjects, and thanks to his efforts, four graduates were consecrated celibate priests in 1888.
The level education at the lyceum was quite high. At the school level, the following subjects were taught: Armenian history and geography, general history and geography, ancient Armenian literature, Armenian and foreign (Russian, French, German) languages, natural sciences, astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, religious music, logics, etc. The auditory section included Armenian language (Classical and Modern), Armenian history, religious literature, Armenian literature, European literature, philosophy, psychology, pedagogy, political economy, history of the Armenian Church, Armenian religious law, ritual studies, ancient Greek, etcetera.
The graduates presented final essays, which were defended before an examining committee and then they became clerics or continued their higher studies in Russian and European universities.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the lyceum had 20 paying students and 230 others with scholarships. It was maintained through the incomes of the monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin, as well as fundraisers and donations. The Catholicos was the principal, who followed the activities of the lyceum through the Educational Council and the dean. The deans included Bishop Gabriel Ayvazovsky (brother of the famous painter), Rev. Garegin Hovsepiants (future Catholicos of Cilicia), Rev. Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan, and other names, generally but not exclusively ecclesiastics. Among the teachers of the Kevorkian lyceum were such luminaries of Armenian culture as Manuk Abeghian, Hrachia Ajarian, Leo, Stepan Lisitsian, Gomidas, Hakob Manandian, and many others. Those teachers were partly graduates of the same lyceum.
Within the frame of the lyceum there was an intensive intellectual activity: preparation of Armenian schools programs, writing of textbooks and handbooks, as well as many historiographic, philological, pedagogical, and theological works. The faculties of the Armenian schools of the Caucasus were filled by graduates of the Kevorkian lyceum for more than half a century.
Due to the political and military unfavorable conditions at the end of 1917, Catholicos Kevork V (1911-1930) decided to cease temporarily the activities of the lyceum on December 21, 1917. Attempts to reopen the Kevorkian Lyceum during the first independent Republic did not succeed. The unique and rich collection of its library (45,000 volumes) became one of the starting points of the collections of the National Library of Armenia and the Matenadaran.
The Etchmiadzin lyceum was finally reopened in 1945 and continues its activities until today.