Church of Caucasian Albania
The Albanian Apostolic Church or the Church of Caucasian Albania was an ancient briefly independent autocephalous church. It later fell under the religious jurisdiction of the Armenian Apostolic Church that existed from the 5th century to 1830 and was centered in Caucasian Albania, a region mostly located in present-day Azerbaijan. It was one of the earliest national Christian churches.
In the early 8th century, the church tried to embrace Chalcedonianism, but this attempt was foiled by the rest of the Armenian Church with the help of the Arabs.
In medieval times, the monastery of Gandzasar served as the See of the Caucasian Albanian Catholicosate of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which continued to exist until 1828 (or 1836) when it was formally abolished by the Russian authorities, following the forced cession of the last territories in the Caucasus maintained under Iranian Qajar rule per the Treaty of Turkmenchay and the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828).
According to Strabo, who travelled to the region in the 1st century BC, the local tribes practised polytheism. Among the worshipped deities, Strabo names the gods of the sun, the sky, and above of all, the moon, and equates them to the Greek gods Helios, Zeus, and Selene respectively. The skeleton of a human bound in fetters found in 1950, during the archeological excavations in Mingachevir, indicates that the ancestors of Caucasian Albanians practiced human sacrifice.
Origins of Christianity in Caucasian Albania
According to local tradition, Christianity entered Caucasian Albania in the 1st century through St. Elisæus of Albania, a disciple of St. Thaddeus of Edessa. St. Elisæus was ordained bishop by James the Just in Jerusalem, and travelled eastward through Persia to preach Christianity in the land of the Maskout, one of the Caucasian Albanian tribes (hypothetically related to the ancient Massagetae of Central Asia). From there he travelled to Utiķ, to the city of Saharn, but was chased from there by the pagans. After this he arrived at a place called Gis where he built a church - the first in the Caucasus, today commonly believed to be the Church of Kish north of Shaki, Azerbaijan. The church founded by St. Elisæus was regarded by Caucasian Albanians as their "mother-church" that laid the foundation of institutionalised Christianity in the kingdom.
On his way through the Zerguni Valley, St. Elisæus was martyred, and his remains were buried in a place named Homenķ. They were later exhumed and reburied in the Jrvshtik Monastery (in the present-day Martakert Region of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic).
According to the 6th-century archbishop and historian St. Sophronius of Cyprus, in 71, St. Bartholomew the Apostle was preaching Christianity in the city of Albana or Albanopolis, associated with present-day Baku or Derbent, both located by the Caspian Sea. St. Bartholomew managed to convert even members of the local royal family who had worshipped the idol Astaroth, but was later martyred by being flayed alive and crucified head down on orders from the pagan king Astyages. The remains of St. Bartholomew were secretly transferred to Mesopotamia. At the beginning of the 19th century, when the Russian Orthodox Church had established itself in the South Caucasus, a chapel was built at the site of an old Caucasian Albanian church in Baku, by the Maiden Tower believed to be the place of St. Bartholomew's martyrdom. The chapel was demolished in the Soviet times, in 1936, in the heat of the Bolshevik campaign against religion.
History of the Church
Initial Spread of Christianity in Caucasian Albania
Shortly after Armenia adopted Christianity as its state religion (301/314 AD), the Caucasian Albanian King Urnayr went to the See of the Armenian Apostolic Church to receive baptism from St. Gregory the Illuminator, the founder and first Catholicos of Armenia. According to historian Igor Kuznetsov, this established the Armenian Apostolic Church's notion of its superiority to the Church of Caucasian Albania. However Caucasian Albanians, in contrast, may have believed in the seniority of their church due to the role of St. Elisæus who according to the tradition presented by Movses Kaghankatvatsi built a church on their lands "earlier than in Armenia." Indeed, The Udis who resided on the territory of the Caspian sea shore, later accepted Christianity and spread this religion in the Caucasus Albania. The church of Kish in Shaki district - the first Christian church -was considered the forefather of the Christian churches.
After Urnayr's death, the Caucasian Albanians requested that St. Gregory's grandson, St. Gregoris, lead their church. St. Gregoris had been ordained bishop of Caucasian Albania and Iberia at age 15 and travelled through those lands preaching Christianity. He built Caucasian Albania's third known church in the city of Tsri, in Utiķ. During his stay in the land of the Maskout in northeast Caucasian Albania, St. Gregoris was attacked by an angry mob of idol worshippers, tied to a horse and dismembered. His remains were buried near the Amaras Monastery (presently in the Martuni Province of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) built by his grandfather in the canton of Haband in Artsakh.
In probably the early 5th century, a local bishop by the name of Jeremy translated the Holy Bible into the language of the Caucasian Albanians, i.e. the Old Udi language. The earliest extant excerpts of translations of parts of the Bible into Old Udi come from the 7th century, and were based mostly upon Armenian translations. These translations were commissioned probably by King Javanshir.
Struggle with Persian Zoroastrianism
According to the 5th century Armenian historian Yeghishe Vardapet, in the year 450 the Sassanid King of Persia King Yazdegerd II ordered the highest nobles in Caucasian Albania, Armenia, and Georgia to come to his capital in Ctesiphon for the purpose of compelling their conversion to Zoroastrianism. Prior to going, representatives from all three nations vowed to each other that they would never relinquish their faith. Although while in Ctesiphon the nobles relented, were showered with gifts, and sent back to their lands accompanied by Zoroastrian priests in order to establish the religion in their respective nations, upon returning home these nobles were spurred by popular sentiment to hold more firmly to their Christian faith and rebel against King Yazdegerd II under the leadership of Armenian General Vardan Mamikonyan. The united Christian nations of Caucasian Albania, Armenia, and Georgia lost at the Battle of Avarayr in 451; however, to some degree at least part of the Caucasian Albanian nation has remained Christian even through modern times.
In the mid-5th century, under King Vache II, Caucasian Albania shortly adopted Zoroastrianism due to Persian influence. The return to Christianity resulted in a war between Persia and Caucasian Albania, during which Vache II lost his heir. Neither side won; eventually Peroz I, the King of Persia from 457 to 484, offered Vache II peace and the right to remain a Christian, but only if Vache would allow his mother and wife, who were both Persian and Zoroastrian by birth, to return to their homeland. Vache complied, and lived the rest of his life in solitude.
Christianity reached its golden age in the late 5th century under Vachagan the Pious (ruled 487–510), who launched a campaign against idol worship and witchcraft in Caucasian Albania and discouraged Zoroastrianism. Those who propagated idol worship were physically punished, enslaved or ostrasised. King Vachagan would personally arrange for their children to be taken to schools and raised Christian. He took an active part in Christianising Caucasian Albanians and appointing clergy to monasteries throughout his kingdom. On his orders, the site of St. Gregoris' burial was discovered and venerated.
In 488, King Vachagan convoked the Council of Aghuen in his summer residence near present-day Mardakert. During the council, a twenty-one paragraph codex was adopted formalising and regulating the important aspects of the Church's structure, functions, relationship with the state, and legal status.
Proselytism among the Huns
In the 6th century AD the Huns had established themselves in the North Caucasus, in what is now Dagestan. At the time of Javanshir's rule (635–669), they maintained friendly relations with Caucasian Albania. Javanshir's assassination in 669 provoked the Huns to launch raids into the country in retaliation for their ally's death. The new ruler Varaz-Tiridates I, who was Javanshir's nephew, delegated Israel, Bishop of Mets Kolmanķ, to persuade the Hunnic ruler Alp Iluetuer to put an end to military actions, as the people of Caucasian Albania could not be held responsible for a deed committed "by the hand of one treacherous and vile man." During his stay in the land of Huns in 681—682, Israel condemned their pagan beliefs and practices, and preached Christianity. His converts offered him to establish and lead a patriarchate there through a special request sent by Alp Iluetuer to Eliezer, Catholicos of Caucasian Albania. The request was turned down due to Israel already having been assigned a congregation in Mets Kolmanķ. Despite Israel maintaining further contact with the Huns, Christianity probably did not survive among the latter for long.
Decline of the Church
After the overthrow of Nerses in 705, the Caucasian Albanian elite decided to reestablish the tradition of having their Catholicoi ordained through the Patriarch of Armenia, as was the case before 590. This event is generally regarded as the abolition of the Church of Caucasian Albania through the loss of its autocephaly, and the lowering of its hierarchical status to that of a subordinate body within Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Arab conquest and the Chalcedonian crisis led to severe disintegration of the Church of Caucasian Albania. Starting from the 8th century, much of the local population underwent mass Islamization. By the 11th century there already were prominent mosques in Partav, Chabala, and Shaki, cities that had been centers of Caucasian Albanian Christianity. Caucasian Albanians that converted to Islam were over time assimilated into the Azeri, Iranian, Lezgian, and Tsakhur ethnic groups, whereas those that remained Christian were gradually absorbed by Armenians or continued to exist on their own and be known as the Udi people.
The Caucasian Albanian tribes of Hereti (the former country's northern province that was temporarily independent from the 9th to the 11th centuries as a self-proclaimed successor of Caucasian Albania) were converted to Eastern Orthodoxy by Dinar, Queen of Hereti in the 10th century. The religious affairs of this small principality were now officially administered by the Georgian Orthodox Church. In 1010, Hereti became absorbed into the neighbouring Georgian kingdom of Kakheti. Eventually in the early 12th century, these lands became part of the Georgian Kingdom under David the Builder finalizing the process of their Georgianization.
Caucasian Albanian Catholicate
The Caucasian Albanian or Gandzasar Catholicate of the Armenian Apostolic Church continued to exist well into the 19th century as a separate diocese of that church. There were attempts by the Church of Caucasian Albania to adopt Chalcedonianism and break with the rest of the Armenian Church so as to be autocephalous in the mid-10th century, but they were suppressed by the Armenian clergy with the support of King Ashot III. After the transfer of the seat of the Armenian patriarch to Rumkale, Cilicia, in the 12th century, the Caucasian Albanian bishops no longer appealed to the former to ordain their Catholicoi. The original order was restored in 1634 after the seat of the Armenian patriarch returned to Ejmiatsin. The See of the Caucasian Albanian Catholicate remained in Partav for a while. Around 1213, it was transferred to the Khamshi Monastery south of Gadabay. Beginning in 1240, the Gandzasar Monastery grew increasingly in importance, and in the 15th century it became the seat of the Caucasian Albanian Catholicos. From that period on, the Catholicoi also were members of the household of the Armenian princely family of Gandzasar, the House of Hasan-Jalalyan.
In addition to the former jurisdiction of the Church of Caucasian Albania, the Catholicate maintained control over the Armenian diocese in the Golden Horde in the 13th and 14th centuries, centered in its capital city of Sarai. In the mid-18th century, the religious life of the Armenian community of Astrakhan was also supervised by the Caucasian Albanian Catholicate. Beginning in the early 18th century, the Hasan-Jalalyans actively contributed to the Russian conquest of the South Caucasus. In 1815, two years after the Russian conquest of the Karabakh khanate, the office of the Caucasian Albanian Catholicate was abolished, and its head replaced by a metropolitan bishop. In 1836, under the decree of Nicolas I which regulated the status of the Armenian Apostolic Church within the Russian Empire, the office of the Caucasian Albanian Metropolitan Bishop was abolished completely. Its jurisdictions were subordinated directly to the Armenian Apostolic Church as the Dioceses of Artsakh and Shamakhy, as well as the Vicariate of Ganja within the Armenian Church's Tbilisi Consistory.
Modern Caucasian Albanian-Udi Church
In 2003, the Caucasian Albanian-Udi Christian Community based in Nij, Azerbaijan was registered in the Azerbaijan State Committee for Religious Organizations. An estimated 6,000 out of the 10,000 Udis worldwide live in Azerbaijan, including 4,400 in Nij.
- Monastery of Pand
- Monastery of Mrouv
- Monastery of St. Theotokos of Partav
- Monastery of Kałankatouyk
- Monastery of St. Theotokos of Artsakh
- Monastery of St. Gregory of Amaras
- Four other unnamed monasteries repossessed by Arabs at Kaghankatvatsi's time
As a result of the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani military confrontation, the Armenian Apostolic Church has not had official representation in Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh since the early 1990s. Even as late as 1997, the churches in Udi-populated locales were still closed as a result of the Bolshevik anti-religious campaign of the 1930s.
Structure of the Church
The Church of Caucasian Albania was represented in the early œcumenical councils but similarly to a number of other Oriental Orthodox churches, it generally did not accept the Chalcedonian Creed (a doctrine condemning monophysitism and propagating the dual nature of Jesus Christ) adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, viewing it as a return to Nestorianism. In 491, Caucasian Albanian bishops, along with Armenian Catholicos Babgen I and Georgian bishops at Vagharshapat, condemned the Chalcedonian creed. Later synods held at Dvin in 527 and 551 also condemned the Council of Chalcedon.
At the First Council of Dvin held in 506, the Caucasian Albanian, Armenian, and Georgian churches all declared doctrinal unity with each other, and also possibly with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches as well. Specifically, at this council the Church of Caucasian Albania rejected both Nestoriaism and the legitimacy and beliefs of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. As of the late 6th century, both Nestorian and Chalcedonian beliefs were popular enough in Caucasian Albania to provoke a letter of concern, dated sometime between the years 568 and 571, from Armenian Catholicos Hovhannes addressed to Bishop Vrtanes and Prince Mihr-Artashir of Syunik province. Around the same time, representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem were actively promoting Chalcedonian beliefs in Caucasian Albania. Indeed, it is likely that because of such advocacy and possible coercive pressure, dioceses of the Church of Caucasian Albania located in Jerusalem had already accepted Chalcedonian beliefs and had begun promoting them back home. By probably the first decade of the 7th century, though, the Church of Caucasian Albania had already come back into communion with the Armenian Apostolic Church as a fellow non-Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox Church.
In the late 7th century, Catholicos Nerses attempted to install the Chalcedonian rite in Caucasian Albania. According to Kaghankatvatsi, Nerses was the Bishop of Gardman who adhered to diophysitism, as did the queen-consort of Caucasian Albania, Spram, the wife of Varaz-Tiridates I. In 688, with Spram's help, Nerses managed to be appointed as Patriarch, planning to bring the country under the Chalcedonian creed. Many members of the ruling class and clergy accepted his ideas, whereas those that remained loyal to the original teachings of the Church (including Israel, Bishop of Mets Kolmanķ), became subject to repression. The growth of diophysitism was contrary to the interests of the Arabs who had taken over most of the Caucasus by the early 8th century, because diophysitism was regarded as Greek in essence and thus associated with territorial aspirations of the Byzantine Empire. In 705, the anti-Chalcedonian clergy of Caucasian Albania convoked a council and anathematised Nerses and his supporters. Elias, Catholicos of Armenia, followed up by writing a letter to Caliph Abd al-Malik notifying him of the political threat that Chalcedonianism was posing to the region. Abd al-Malik arranged for the arrest of Nerses and Spram, who were then bound in fetters and exiled.
In light of the fact that leaders of the modern Caucasian Albanian Church are considering sending potential clergy to study in Russia, its future may be with Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
The liturgical language of the Church was likely one of the local tribal tongues, most likely Gargarian or Caucasian Albanian, which likely were in fact the same language. Caucasian Albania was mentioned by Movses Kaghankatvatsi as having its own literary tradition starting from the 5th century. In his letter to Persian Christians in 506, Babgen I, Catholicos of Armenia, stated that all three churches of the Caucasus were ideologically united despite each having its own language. That Caucasian Albanians probably used their own national language as a liturgical language in their church is suggested by a bilingual Georgian-Old Udi palimpsest manuscript dating back to no later than the 7th century that was discovered in 1997 in Saint Catherine's Monastery in Egypt by Georgian historian Zaza Aleksidze. Towards the abolition of the Church's autocephaly, it was increasingly becoming linguistically Armenised. Among the factors that might have contributed to that are constant raids of the Khazars and the "lawless" who burned churches and with them much of Caucasian Albanian religious literature. In 1898–1902, for the first time since 705, the Gospels were translated by Simon Bezhanov of Vartashen into the Udi language, a direct descendant of one of the tribal languages of Caucasian Albania.
The archbishop was considered the head of the Church of Caucasian Albania, and he had traditionally been ordained by the Armenian Catholicos until 590, when Caucasian Albania proclaimed its own locally ordained patriarchy. In general, the seat of the Catholicos was passed down from uncle to nephew. This continued until the abolition of the Church's autocephaly in 706. The city of Chola (possibly present-day Derbent, Russia) had originally been chosen to be the See of the Church of Caucasian Albania. However, in 551, due to plundering raids of Khazars on Caucasian Albania, the seat of the archbishop was transferred to Partav.
In various sources, the dioceses of Partav, Amaras, Syuniķ (temporary transferred over from the Armenian Apostolic Church in 590), Utiķ, Balasakan, Gardman, Shaki, Kabalaka, Hasho, and Kolmanķ are listed as dioceses of the Church of Caucasian Albania.
List of Caucasian Albanian Catholicoi
Lineage was established by St. Elisæus the Apostle also known as Yeghishe (dies c. 79) and considered the father of the Church of Caucasian Albania. Lineage continued with St. Grigoris, the grandson of Gregory the Illuminator. Grigoris was invited by Albanian king Urnayr to sit on the throne and continued to rule until 343 AD. Urnayr had converted into Christianity in the hands of Gregory the Illuminator. Lineage continued until 1836 when it was abolished by the Russian authorities and the position of metropolitan established from that date on.
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