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  • Macarius of Jerusalem: Letter to the Armenians, AD 335. Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary
  • Tim Greenwood
Abraham Terian Macarius of Jerusalem: Letter to the Armenians, AD 335. Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary AVANT: Treasures of the Armenian Christian Tradition, 4 Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008 Pp. 184, $30.00.

This slim volume is of extraordinary significance. Despite its modest length, there can be no doubt that this book will exert a profound influence upon two major fields of research. In the future, anyone wishing to study baptismal and eucharistic practices in fourth-century Jerusalem and their wider transmission before the Catecheses of St. Cyril were composed will need to take Professor Terian's research into account. Furthermore the history of the Armenian church in its earliest phase, previously reconstructed through later fifth-century texts, can now be approached through a contemporary source. The letter of Macarius to the Armenians is, by some margin, the earliest documentary witness to the nascent Armenian church. From now on, every study of the spread of Christianity in Armenia and the emergence of a separate Armenian church will have to acknowledge and exploit this newly-identified source. If it is rare to find a volume which profoundly alters the parameters of one field of scholarship, it is even rarer to find a publication which transforms two disciplines simultaneously.

Terian's study offers eloquent testimony to the virtues of careful source-criticism and scholarly reappraisal. As the introduction makes plain, this redacted letter was not unknown to previous generations of scholars. At the very end of the nineteenth century, Conybeare proposed a fourth-century date but he also maintained that it was somehow related to the baptismal practices of the Paulician movement which he supposed, wrongly, to be present and active in Armenia at this time. Akinean forcefully rejected Conybeare's dating and argued that it was a letter composed by Macarius II of Jerusalem in the second half of the sixth century. Although Akinean's misidentification was in turn challenged by Hats'uni and others, the opinions of these commentators were overshadowed by Akinean's scholarly reputation. Terian refutes each of the arguments advanced by Akinean for a sixth-century date (29–44) before setting out the overwhelming evidence in favor of a fourth-century date (44–63). Since the Armenian script was not invented until the start of the fifth century, Terian has to prove that the Letter in its current form represents an Armenian translation of a Greek original. He achieves this through close philological analysis (24–27).

Having established dating and authorship, Terian then provides a revised edition of the text of the Letter with facing translation (76–91) and finally an exhaustive commentary (95–138). Two appendices (141–62) complete the study. The first comprises a full translation of a seventh-century discourse by Anania of Shirak titled "On the Epiphany of Our Lord and Savior," which contains a lengthy quotation from the Letter. The second is a full translation of a genuinely later sixth-century letter, from patriarch John IV of Jerusalem (574–94) to the Catholicos of the Albanian church, Abas. This is imbued with Chalcedonian teaching and attitudes and reflects a fierce antipathy towards the Armenian church. [End Page 671]

The Letter itself is a response by Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem (in office between 314 and late 335 or early 336), to a series of specific questions contained in a letter sent by Vrt'anēs, the "Chief-bishop" of Armenia (327–42) and brought to Jerusalem by a delegation of Armenian priests on the occasion of the Encaenia, the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in September 335. The Letter seeks to correct irregularities in the initiation rites of baptism and the Eucharist currently in use in the Armenian church by articulating present practices in Jerusalem. In so doing, it reveals the divergent forms being practiced in Armenia, which have strong echoes of old East Syrian rites. As Terian judiciously observes, orthopraxy was conceived by Vrt'anēs and his Armenian colleagues in terms of liturgical performance in Jerusalem. Yet even this barely begins to do justice to...


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