Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Death of Catholicos Mateos I (August 22, 1865)

The Armenian Church had two Catholicoi called Mateos in the nineteenth and twentieth century, who also were Patriarchs of Constantinople at first, and lived and worked in difficult circumstances both in the Ottoman and the Russian empires.

Mateos Chuhadjian was born in Constantinople in 1802 and consecrated archimandrite in 1826. He was one of the best prepared and well-versed ecclesiastics of his time. Following instructions of Patriarch Stepanos Aghavni (1831-1839 and 1840-1841), he collaborated with writer Krikor Peshdimaljian and published a voluminous Synaxarion in 1831. (The Synaxarion-- in Armenian, Haysmavurk --is the compilation of the lives of saints arranged by the order of their anniversaries.) During his life, he would publish a dozen works of religious studies and theology, some of them polemical. 

He was named primate of the diocese of Brusa in 1835 and consecrated bishop three years later. In 1841 he became primate of Smyrna and in July 1844, at the age of forty-two, he became Patriarch of Constantinople. 

The relations between the Catholicosate of All Armenians and the Patriarchate had become frozen in 1828, when the dioceses under jurisdiction of the latter had stopped remembering the name of the Catholicos. In his first Holy Mass, celebrated on July 23, 1844, he remembered the name of Catholics Nerses V Ashtaraketsi. Patriarch Mateos worked towards restoring the relations between both sees. By mutual agreement, the two sees decided to maintain direct relations. The Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized as vicar, legate, and treasurer of Holy Etchmiadzin, that is, the only representative, and the activities and fundraising by other legates was forbidden. The boundaries of the diocesan divisions were also established and clarified.

During the four-year mandate of Patriarch Mateos, the simmering conflict between the Armenian Church and the few hundred followers of Protestantism exploded. Despite the assurances of Protestant leadership, as James L. Barton wrote in 1908, that the American missionaries’ “supreme endeavor was to help the Armenians and the Greeks work out a quiet but genuine reform in their respective churches,” their mission was characterized as an attack on the “Mother Church.” On June 21, 1846 the Patriarch issued an encyclical of perpetual excommunication and anathema against all Protestants, and four days later, a constitution was drawn up for the forthcoming Armenian Evangelical Church, which began on July 1.  

The Patriarch reopened the Lyceum of Scutari (1845), which had been converted into a military hospital by decision of the Ottoman government four years before. He also founded schools in Samatia, Smyrna, and other places. During his tenure, 25 schools and many printing houses functioned in Constantinople, several periodicals appeared, and various cultural societies were founded. He also ensured that promising young people were sent to Europe to pursue higher education.

He also formed the two administrative bodies of self-government for Western Armenians, the Religious Assembly (14 members) and the Supreme Assembly (20 members), which became the grounds for the preparation of the National Constitution fifteen years later. However, his activities were met with resistance by the amiras (the upper class magnates), and their pressure forced him to resign from his position in September 1848. It is interesting that, after his resignation from the highest position of the Armenian Church in the Ottoman Empire, he became the primate of the diocese of Nicomedia (Ismit) in 1853-1854, and abbot of the convent of Armash in 1855, when he was also designated chairman of the Religious Assembly.

After the death of Nerses V, the National Representative Assembly gathered in Holy Etchmiadzin decided to strengthen the links between Etchmiadzin and Constantinople and elect any Western Armenian ecclesiastic. The election fell on Archbishop Mateos Chuhajian, who was elected on May 17, 1858, and consecrated on August 15, 1859. 

During his six-year tenure, Catholicos Mateos I was again in conflict with Protestantism, this time in the diocese of Shamakha (current Azerbaijan), and his confrontational position ended with the incorporation of the few hundred Armenian Protestants to the Lutheran Church, the only one recognized in the Russian Empire, in 1866.

Tombstone of Catholicos Mateos I
He tried to reform the Holy See and regulate monastic life. He paid attention to education and in 1861 he approved the statutes of the Nersisian School of Tiflis (founded by his predecessor Nerses V in 1824), and established the programs and organizational rules of the parochial and diocesan schools, and at the same time incorporated many laymen in the school boards. He put in order the library of the Holy See and the first complete catalogue of manuscripts appeared in 1863. 

Catholicos Mateos I passed away on August 22, 1865 in Vagharshapat, and was interred in the narthex (gavit) of the nearby monastery of Surp Gayane.