THE ARMENIAN AND OTHER ORIENTAL CHURCHES.
THE wars which from time immemorial are devastated the fair lands of Eastern Europe and Western Asia have had in most cases a religious basis. At first, in pagan times, the worshippers of the gods of the hills attacked the adherents of the gods of the valleys or of the plains; later, the devotees of Bel or Baal made war upon the worshippers of the one living and true God. When Christianity became the religion of the state, its emperors and generals turned their arms against the pagan Avars and Bulgarians, or, full as oft, upon those Christian sects which from their purer worship were denominated heretics by the orthodox. This condition of warfare on religious grounds has continued throughout all the centuries of the Christian era, even down to our own time, sometimes assuming the form of a fierce and bloody persecution against the protesting churches who refused obedience to the Roman or the Greek Church, and sometimes. raging in terrible conflict against the Turk. Even in the war recently in progress, the cross of the Greek Church was arrayed against the Mohammedan crescent.
It is, however, only one division of this series of religious conflicts which specially concerns usthat which relates to the power claimed by the self-styled orthodox Greek and Roman churches to put down, by force and bloodshed, every form of faith which they were pleased to denounce as heresy.
No sooner was the Christian church, by the conversion of Constantine, relieved from the pressure of persecution, than its bishops and leaders began to magnify what it had previously regarded as trifling errors into heretical dogmas which threatened not only the peace, but the very existence, of Christianity. The Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Carthage, and the Bishop of Nicomedia were ranged against each other in hostile array; council succeeded council; the emperor sided now with Arius and now with Athanasiusfirst with the iconoclasts and next with the makers and worshipppers of images; and in a few years the followers of the Prince of peace were wielding the weapons of a carnal warfare against each other. These hostilities and conflicts continued through the following centuries, until they culminated in the separation of the two bodies in the East and in the West, since known as the orthodox Greek and the Roman Catholic churches.
But there two churches, differ as they might, had yet many points in common. Their greatest differences were that the Greek Church adhered somewhat more strictly to the early forms of the primitive and apostolic church in its ordinances and ritual, and that it did not recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Both paid divine honors to the Virgin Mary; both addressed their prayers and homage to saints and angels; both used pictures, icons, statues, and crucifixes in their worship. and both denounced as heretics all who differed from them in belief. By both, also, the churches of the remote East were regarded as fountains of heresy. The Roman Church considered them as guilty of all the seven mortal sins, and the Greek Church proclaimed, that for those who continued in these heretical doctrines there was no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come.
And what were these fearful heresies? The positive doctrines of their belief are hard to trace, since they are only recorded in the accusations of their bitterest enemies. They probably differed considerably in different periods. There had come down to most of these churches from the old Aryan inhabitants of Persia some of the dogmas which had distinguished them, surrounded as they were by idolaters, in their maintenance for more than three thousand years of a purely theistic worship. These Aryans, like their descendants, the Parsees of the present day, held to two principles which governed this world and all worldsthe good principle, called also Ormuzd, and the evil principle or spirit, which they named Ahriman. Both they believed to be subordinate to the Great First Cause, who dwelt in the light unapproachable and had delegated nearly equal power to these two spirits. There is room for admiration that these thoughtful sages, without the light of revelation, should have approached so close to the truth as they did, and yet the great problem of the entrance of sin into the world, and the self-evident fact of its continued existence and its terrible effects, might well, in the absence of purer light, have led them to this belief in dual divinities.
When the religion of Jesus Christ was revealed to these orientals by the preaching of the apostles and their followers and the diffusion of a few manuscript copies of the Gospels, and, later, of the other books of the New Testament, it is not surprising that they should have recognized in Jesus the Ormuzd of their old faith, and in Satan their evil spirit, Ahriman, and, for want of better instruction, should have attributed to them the qualities, powers, and functions which their reformers and prophets had assigned to the two principles; nor that some of the other fictions of their older faith, so dear to Oriental minds, should have clung to their new doctrines, through the slow-moving centuries' till they were displaced by the clearer light of Revelation.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved