"A Holy and Angelic Catholicos": Dr. Abraham Terian Lectures on St. Hovhan Mandakuni
Bishop Zgon was for decades a devoted servant of the Armenian Church. A member of the monastic brotherhood of Saints James in Jerusalem, he served for many years as Primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq before retiring in the United States. He went to be with the Lord in 1991. The beloved bishop directed that a perpetual fund be established from his earthly assets, the income of which should support the continuing education of clergy, particularly in the areas of preaching and the Armenian Church fathers. A portion of Dr. Abrham Terian's research and writing is subsidized by the fund in Bishop Zgon's name.
Dr. Terian, known internationally for his cutting-edge scholarship of the Christian literature and theology of the Armenian Church, introduced his talk as a "nakhadonag (Pre-Feast) of the 1600th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian letters and the translation of the Bible into Armenian." He began his talk by describing the revolutionary work of the holy translators of Armenia's fifth century: Koriwn, Catholicos Hovsep, Yeghishe, Ghazar P'arbetsi, Paustos, and Agathangelos. Although these fifth-century are generally celebrated as historians, they were all clergyman and their writings are intended as theology.
"You hardly read a paragraph in any of these works that is not loaded with Bible quotations, inundated with spiritual proof-texts," Terian said.
This was the intellectual and religious climate into which Mandakuni was born. He was very likely, Terian asserted, a student of the great St. Mesrob Mashdots. Terian also sketched the political climate of the late fifth century, when Catholicos Hovhan was active. These were the years following the military defeat of St. Vartan and his companions by the Persians at the Battle of Avarayr.
"As we all know, the battle was lost, but the war to preserve the right to our Armenian Christian life was won," said Terian, moving out from behind the lectern toward the audience. "However it came at a brutal price: three decades of almost annual battles in response to seasonal assaults by the Persians."
In his religious chronicle, the priest and theologian Ghazar P'arbetsi, who was an eye-witness to these events, recounts the dire circumstances of the times. He refers to Hovhan Mandakuni as "a holy and angelic Catholicos." In page afer page of poignant testimony, Ghazar shows Mandakuni's holy words and example to be a great source of inspiration to the troops fighting against the Persians.
Terian confessed that in the time allotted to him he could not but mention a few of St. Hovhan Mandakuni's written works. The great St. Mesrob Mashdots and his contemporaries translated all of the books of the Bible. His students, the second generation of holy translators, including Mandakuni focused on translating the extra-canonical (or deutero-canonical) books of the Bible, and writings of the Syriac and Greek church fathers. To Hovhan is ascribed the Armenian translation of the little-known Third Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, (This work has been studied by St. Nersess alumnus V. Rev. Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian); and The Dormition of St. John the Evangelist.
Many very early liturgical prayers and services of the Armenian Church are also plausibly attributed to Mandakuni, Terian noted.
The professor devoted most of his attention and fervor to two moral-theological works of Mandakuni. The first is a treatise entitled On Love and Sanctity whereby Creatures Prosper. Its main theme is the biblical axiom that "Faith, by itself, if it has no works,is dead" [James 2:17]. Hovhan emphasizes that "the greatest indicator of Christian faith is care for the poor," Terian said. "And the second indicator is prayer and fasting," he added. The Armenian Church's fasting tradition was virtually conceived by St. Hovhan Mandakuni.
Terian concluded his talk with the words of the saint, quoting a lengthy passage from a beautiful sermon found at the end of Ghazar P'arbetsi's chronicle.
"From start to finish this homily is structured around the religious experience of the Armenian people in history," Terian said. Modeled closely on the biblical book of Hebrews, Mandakuni narrates the story of the Armenians' struggle of religious liberty as sacred history, a story of the redemption of the Armenian people by God.
Putting down the book from which he was reading, Terian fixed his gaze on the audience and said, "We Armenians tend to be attracted to every other faith and denomination because we are by and large ignorant of our own. We owe it to ourselves," he continued, "To become acquainted with the writings and religious vision of St. Hovhan Mandakuni and of all our saints of the Golden Age."
Earlier in the day the Seminary community offered Requiem Prayers (Hokehankisd) for His Grace Bishop Zgon Der-Hagopian.
TO HEAR DR. TERIAN'S LECTURE ON ST. HOVHAN MANDAKUNI IN FULL Click Here.