According to the Ar-menians, the early patriarchal religion existed in Armenia till about 1700 B. C.;then Assyrian influence brought in Sabaism, which about 725 B. C. became Magism; and- this after Alexander's conquest was confusedly united with Gre-cian idolatry, to which were added Scythian superstitions and the worship of gods from India. They relate that King Abgar, afflicted with a disease resembling leprosy, besought Jesus by letter to come and cure him, and prof-fered him a refuge in Edessa from the Jews who sought to destroy him; that Jesus an-swered this letter with a written promise to send, after his departure, a disciple who should cure the king's malady and give life to him and his; that after the Saviour's as-cension the disciple Thomas sent Thaddeus, one of the seventy, to Edessa; that Abgar, with many others, believed and was bap-tized; that Sanatrug, one of Abgar's succes-sors, put to death Thaddeus, and also flayed alive and crucified St. Bartholomew; that Jude, Eustathius, and other preachers suffered martyrdom in Armenia; that about this time a large part of the Dation was converted, but very soon persecutions produced a general re-lapse into idolatry till about A. D. 300; that then Gregory the Illuminator preached the gospel with wonderful success in Armenia, bap-tized as converts King Tiridates and thousands of his subjects, and was ordained first bishop of the Armenians by Leontius, bishop of Ca3s-area, about 302; that Gregory and Tiridates everywhere established schools, in which the children, especially of the heathen priests, were taught the Christian religion with the Greek and Syriac languages; and that Chris-tian churches took the places of heathen altars, and the kingdom received a new life.
The Armenians profess to have been the first na-tion that unitedly embraced Christianity; but a long and bloody conflict with Persian Magism followed before the nation fully secured reli-gious liberty, A. D. 485. The Armenians re-ceived without question the decrees of the coun-cils of Nice (325) and Ephesus (431); but those of Chalcedon (451) were formally rejected by the Armenian bishops, though they also anathematized Eutyches, while they strenuously maintained the formula of one nature in Christ. The Armenian church has been therefore anathematized as heretical by both the Greek and Roman churches. - The Armenians agree with the Greeks in maintaining the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father only, and in most other doctrines; but they make the sign of the cross with two fingers (in reference to the two natures made one in Christ's person), while the Greeks make this sign with three lingers (in reference to the Trinity). They baptize infants (or adults converted from Judaism or other religion), like the Greeks, by partially immersing them in the font and then thrice pouring water on their heads; but, unlike the Greeks, they admit to their communion Roman Catholics or Protestants who have been baptized by sprinkling.
Like the Roman Catholics, they believe in transubstantiation, adore the host in the mass, and profess belief in seven sacraments; but their prayers of extreme unction are mingled with those of confirmation, which is performed by the priest at baptism, and they reject the Roman purgatory, though they pray for the dead. The people have the communion in both kinds, the broken bread or wafer (unleavened) being dipped in undiluted wine and laid on the tongue of the fasting communicant. They worship saints and their pictures as well as the cross; insist on the perpetual virginity of Mary; maintain baptismal regeneration and the spiritual efficacy of penances and sacraments; and regard confession to the priest and absolution as essential to salvation; but absolution is not purchased, nor are indulgences given. They have 165 fast days, when no animal food can be eaten; 14 great feast days, observed more strictly than the Lord's day; and more minor feasts than days of the year. Their church services are performed in the ancient Armenian language. They have nine grades or orders of clergy, viz.: the catho-licos, bishop, priest, deacon, subdeacon, porter, reader, exorcist, and candle lighter. The monks live according to the rule of St. Basil. There are no regular lay monks among them.
The principal Basilian convent is at Etchmiadzin. There are two grades among the priests: the varta-beds (doctors or teachers), who must remain unmarried, and are again subdivided into two classes; and the parish priests, who must be married before attaining the rank of subdeacon. The bishops are generally elected from the var-tabeds, and only in rare instances, by special dispensation of the catholicos or patriarch, from the monks. The metropolitans or archbishops are distinguished from the bishops only by a higher rank and certain honorary rights, but not by superior jurisdiction. At the head of the entire hierarchy is the catholicos; he resides in the convent of Etchmiadzin, in the province of Erivan, which since 1828 has been under the rule of Russia. His authority as head of the entire church is recognized by all Armenians except the adherents of the patriarch of Aghtamar on Lake Van, who since the 12th century has claimed the title of catholicos, but is recognized only by two towns and 30 vil-lages, and had in the second half of the 17th century eight or nine bishops under his juris-diction. Besides the patriarch of Aghtamar, the Armenian church has patriarchs at Sis, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, all of whom ac-knowledge the higher ecclesiastical rank of the catholicos of Etchmiadzin. The patriarchate of Sis embraces the churches of Armenia Minor, Cappadocia, and Cilicia, under the jurisdiction of about 23 bishops.
The patriarchate of Jerusalem embraces the pashalics of Damascus, Acra, and Tripolis, and the island of Cyprus, and has 14 suffragan bishops. The patriarch of Constantinople has been since 1461 the civil head of all the Armenians in Turkey, and under his direct ecclesiastical jurisdiction are all the dioceses of Turkey, except those belonging to the patriarchates of Sis and Jerusalem. According to the reorganization agreed upon by the provincial council of Constantinople in 1830, the patriarchate of Constantinople embraces 18 archiepiscopal dioceses, with 35 suffragan bishops. One of the archbishops resides in Egypt. The patriarch of Constantinople, who takes rank with the great pashas of the empire, is elected by the ecclesiastical heads and the notables of the Armenian community in Constantinople. The notables were till 1839 chiefly wealthy bankers; but since then high officials of the Turkish government have obtained the ascendancy. Though of an inferior rank to the catholicos, the patriarch of Constantinople is in all other respects entirely independent, and even the name of the catholicos is no longer mentioned in the liturgical books used in Con-stantinople. Under the direct jurisdiction of the catholicos are the Armenians of Russia and Persia. In the former country the Ar-menian churches are by a ukase of 1836 divided into six dioceses (archbishoprics), with eight suffragan bishoprics or vicariates.