Armenian Apostolic Church (Holy See of Cilicia)
- Middle East: 650,000
- North America: 600,000
- South America: 10,000
- Europe: 25,000
The origin of the Armenian Church dates back to the apostolic age. Christianity was preached in Armenia as early as the second half of the first century by St Thaddeus and St Bartholomew, two apostles of Jesus Christ. During the first three centuries Christianity in Armenia was a hidden religion under heavy persecution. In 301 AD Christianity was officially accepted by the Armenians as the state religion. St Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of the Armenian Church, and King Tiridates III, the ruler of the time, played a pivotal role in the Christianization of Armenia. It is a well recognized historical fact that the Armenians were the first nation to formally adhere to Christianity.
St Gregory the Illuminator organized the Armenian Church hierarchy and chose as the site of the Catholicosate the then capital city of Vagharshapat (Holy Etchmiadzin). Because of the continuous political upheavals, the Catholicosate was transferred to various cities, beginning in 485, and was established in 1080 in Cilicia, when the Armenian kingdom also settled there. In 1441, a new catholicos was elected in Holy Etchmiadzin, in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi. At that time Krikor Moussapegiants (1439-1446) was the catholicos residing in Cilicia. Therefore, due to these historical circumstances and the geographical dispersion of the Armenian people, two Catholicosates - Catholicosate of All Armenians (Holy Etcmiadzin) and the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia (Antelias) - have continued to function since 1441, with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. His Holiness Aram I, who was the moderator of the central committee of the WCC from 1991 to 2006, is the 142nd pontiff counted from the Apostle St Thaddeus.
During World War I, one and a half million Armenians were massacred by the Turkish government. The rest of the Armenians in Turkey were forced to leave their homeland and found refuge in the countries of the Middle East, in Europe, and in North and South America. In 1930, the Catholicosate of Cilicia was established in Antelias, Lebanon. Thus, a new era opened, with the organization of dioceses and the founding of a new theological seminary and community-related institutions. The Catholicosate of Cilicia played a significant role in the organization of the world-wide Armenian diaspora. It also takes a major part in the cultural, social and other aspects of the life of the Armenian communities. The Armenian Church in diaspora finds itself in different contexts and faces various problems and challenges. It is truly a global church. Deeply rooted in its centuries-old tradition, it continues to bear witness to the salvation in Christ, and to work for the renewal of its life by responding to the challenges of modern societies. Theological formation, Christian education, community schools, youth and women, leadership training, social action, care for children of broken families, homes for the aged, medical care and housing projects for the needy families - all these are among the priority concerns and activities of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. In the area of publications, the printing house produces theological journals and hundreds of volumes on a regular basis. Ecumenical collaboration, theological dialogues and inter-religious relations occupy an important place in the life and witness of the Catholicosate.
The jurisdiction of the Catholicosate of Cilicia covers Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, the Gulf region, Iran, Greece and the Americas.