Armenia, Byzantium, and
the Byzantine Armenians

Since the early and formative years of Christianity,
Armenia maintained close relations with the Eastern Roman
Empire.  Sometimes this relationship was tumultuous but other
times it was extremely positive, enriching the faith and culture of
both Armenians and the people of the Eastern (or Byzantine)
Empire.  The following is a survey of the highlights of that
relationship.  For the full essay, click here:
Mosaic of Christ the Teacher from the walls of Hagia Sophia
St. Photius the Great:  Patriarch of Constantinople and Byzantine Armenian
St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia
Icon of the Emperor & Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils
The Byzantine Empire was not a Greek Empire:  
"Although it is true that Greek was used as the language of the Empire, that can not
be taken as proof that the empire was 'Greek.'  Latin was the original official
language, imposed by the Romans who established and ruled the Roman Empire.  In
395 A.D. when the Roman Empire split into western and eastern (Byzantine), Latin
continued to be used as the official language but in time it was replaced by Greek as
that language was already widely spoken among the Eastern Mediterranean nations
as the main trade language.
"Yet the Emperors, the Church clergy, the army, and the artists, although they spoke
Latin and Greek, where not exclusively of Greek ethnicity.  The Empire was made up
of many nationalities - Thracians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians,
Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians,
Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, etc.  The Greeks composed only a small portion of
this multi-ethnic Empire.
"The earlier Byzantine Emperors were Romans but in time people of different ethnic
backgrounds ruled this multi-ethnic empire.  It is known that the empire reached its
zenith while it was ruled by the Macedonians while the Macedonian Dynasty was in
power for almost two centuries.  Other dynasties that ruled were the Syrian,
Armenian, Phrygian (Amorian), and other emperors were of various nationalities." -
from the website:
History of Macedonia   Even this "Macedonian Dynasty” referenced
above was founded by Basil I who was of Armenian descent.
Ecclesiastical ties between Armenia & Cappadocia:
An example of the close relations of Armenians and Eastern Romans is the
witness of
St. Gregory the Illuminator.  Although he was of Parthian (Persian)
descent, after his father's assassination of the king of Armenia (Tiridates II),
Gregory was taken to Caesarea Cappadocia to protect him from retribution.  
There he was immersed in the Eastern expression of the Christian faith and
imbued with Orthodoxy.  Upon Gregory’s successful conversion of the
Armenian nation (A.D. 301), he returned to the Metropolitan of Caesarea,
Cappadocia, St. Leontius, and received from him consecration as the first
Catholicos of Armenia.  From this point on the Armenian Church maintained a
close connection with the Cappadocian Metropolitan and was subject to him
until their ecclesiastical break in subsequent centuries.
Theological & Liturgical ties between Etchmiadzin & Constantinople:
The Catholicos-Patriarch Sahag (Isaac) the Great sent the Monk Mesrob
Mashtotz to Constantinople in order to study the venerable Greek text of the
Old Testament Scriptures (known as
the Septuagint), in order to produce an
edition of the Holy Bible in Armenian (A.D. 406).  St. Sahag sent his clergy
known as “the Holy Translators,” to Constantinople in order to study theology
there so that, in turn, they could teach the Word of God to the entire
Armenian nation.  Thus for the first millennia the Armenian Church’s
theological tradition remained ever-close to that of the Byzantine Church.  
Also the standard Armenian Divine Liturgy used today is believed by scholars
to be an older version of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil along with borrowings
from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  In the diffusion of the various
liturgical rites of the Church (see chart below), the Armenian and Byzantine
rites are "Cappadocian Cousins."  Because of their geographical closeness,
their hagiographical traditions also remain ever close with the far  majority of
saints held in common on their respective liturgical calendars.  
Three Holy Cappadocian Hierarchs:  Basil the Great, John the Golden-mouthed, Gregory the Theologian
The Byzantine Armenian rise to power:
As Richard Hovannisian states, “The collective Armenian role in Constantinople
escalated in the seventh and eighth centuries as hundreds of Armenian nobles were
forced to seek haven in the Byzantine Empire during the Arab occupation of Armenia.  
In Byzantium the Armenian nobles became an important element within the dominant
elites and figured in numerous military and political events.  [A total of twenty] rose to
the rank of emperor, and there were those who attained prominence within the
established Orthodox Church.  They were kings and princes, rebels and usurpers,
intellectuals and diplomats—all operating within the Byzantine context."  
In A.D. 867 Basil I (867-886) became Emperor.  Although he was from the region of
Macedonia he was ethnically Armenian.  The dynasty he founded took firm root in the
Byzantine Empire.  The Byzantine Empire ruled by this Macedonian-Armenian dynasty,
“was immeasurably strengthened... and Byzantium became once again the dominating
force in the East Mediterranean” (
The Byzantine World, J.M. Hussey, 35).
Mosaic of Byzantine Imperial Monarchs from the walls of Hagia Sophia
St Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople:
Numerous scholars affirm that Photius the Patriarch (A.D. 877-886) was of
Armenian descent.  David Marshall Lang writes that “Photius was only one of
many Byzantine scholars of Armenian descent.”  Peter Charanis observes that
“John the Grammarian, Photius, Caesar Bardas and Leo the Philosopher were
all, at least in part, of Armenian descent.”  Photius even sent a document
written in Armenian in order to convince the Byzantine Emperor, Basil, that they
belonged to the same Armenian royal family (Erna Manya Shirinyan).
As Patriarch, St. Photius played a pivotal role in the conversion of the Slavs by
sending to them Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  He also defended Eastern Theology
against the intrusions of the Latin Church.  He is considered one of the greatest
minds of his era and his genius is demonstrated in works like his
Mystagogia.  
Photius was unjustly exiled to a monastery in Armenia and fell asleep in the
Lord in full communion with Elder Rome.  Photius is a canonized saint in the
Eastern Orthodox as well as the Byzantine Catholic Churches.  
Hagia Sophia, Great Christian Temple
The Great Dome of Hagia Sophia designed and built by Trdat the Armenian
Architectural ties between Armenia & Constantinople:
Another example of the impact of Armenians within the Byzantine Empire is
the Great Church known as Hagia Sophia.  As Rummel explains, “After the
great earthquake of October 25, A.D. 989, which ruined the great dome of
Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian
architect Trdat (or Tiridates), creator of the great churches of Ani and
Agine, to repair the dome.  The magnitude of the destruction in the church
caused reconstruction to last six years.  The church was re-opened on May
13, 994.”  The magnificent reconstructed dome designed by Trdat in the
tenth century remains aloft the “Great Church” to this day.
Ultimately, the Byzantine Armenians were those who chose to put their religious identity ahead of their cultural or
national aspirations.  In so doing, many of them “sought first the Kingdom of God.”  As a result, these Armenians, while
perhaps loosing some of their ethnic or cultural identity, made great and lasting contributions to the Christian world
outside of the physical boundaries of Armenia.  Instead of being Christians isolated from the rest of the Church, these
Byzantine Armenians chose to cling to their Orthodox Faith, while being fully integrated into the Great Church of
Constantinople and thus with the rest of the ecumenical Church.  In other words, many chose faith over nationality.
Return to the home page of the
St. Gregory the Illuminator Institute
The diffusion of the various liturgical rites of the Catholic Church
and the authonomous Churches which practice them.
A Note on the Byzantine Catholic Church:
Though we often think that the Roman Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church actually is a
communion of churches.   It is made up of churches from the Eastern Tradition and the Western Tradition.  Together all of
these individual churches make the Catholic Church truly "catholic" (that is, "universal").
Like all churches in the Catholic Communion, Eastern Catholics are in union with Rome.  We all share the same basic faith
and the same mysteries (sacraments), however, our way of expressing them follows the same tradition as the Orthodox
churches.  In reality, there are many Eastern churches, each with its own heritage and theology, liturgy and discipline.
Jesus sent his disciples to the four corners of the world to spread the Gospel.  Eventually, four great centers of Christianity
emerged with distinctive Christian customs, but the same faith.  These centers were Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and
Alexandria.  A few centuries later when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to the eastern city of Byzantium later
renamed Constantinople, an adaptation of the Antiochian celebration of the liturgy was made.  From this powerful cultural
center known as Constantinople, the Byzantine Church emerged.
                        -adapted from Joseph Radvanski's  
A Brief Explanation of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
St Lazarus of Constantinople (commemorated on November 17th)
Born c. 810 in Armenia, he is also known as Lazarus Zographos (Ζωγράφος), or the Painter.  St Lazarus was the
earliest saint to be glorified specifically as an Iconographer.  Early in life he settled in Constantinople and entered
monasticism.  Grounded in the ascetic life of a monk, he learned the art of painting icons during the height of the
iconoclast movement, while Theophilus the Iconoclast was on the imperial throne (829-842).  When brought before
the emperor, and threatened with the death penalty, St Lazarus staunchly refused to destroy any of the holy
images.  He was therefore imprisoned.  Once released, St Lazarus continued to paint icons and so was again
arrested and this time tortured by having red-hot horseshoes applied to his hands, burning the flesh to the bone.  
Lazarus was rescued from any further tortures by Theodora, the emperor’s wife and secret venerator of icons
(iconodule), and secluded in the St John the Baptist monastery by the banks of the Bosphorus.  Upon the
Restoration of Icons in 843 A.D., Lazarus was once again free to venerate icons, and even continued to paint them
despite his injuries from torture.  In gratitude to Empress Theodora he painted an icon with of St. John the Baptist
and then a huge figure of Jesus Christ on one of the gates of the Imperial Palace.  In 856, Lazarus was sent by
Michael III (Theophilus and Theodora’s son) as an emissary to visit Pope Benedict III to discuss the possibility of
reconciliation between Rome and Constantinople – who at this point had very strained relations.  He made a second
mission to Rome in 867 but died during the journey and was buried in the monastery of Evanderes, near
Constantinople. -adapted from -http://iconreader.wordpress.com/