Fifth Century Historian Describes Deplorable State of Armenian Society

By Asbarez | Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

A friend recently sent me an excerpt written in the 5th Century by historian Movses Khorenatsi in which he described the deplorable societal conditions in ancient Armenia.

My friend commented: “St. Movses could have easily written these words about our Armenian clergy, leaders, church, organizations, judges, institutions and us today in 2017 as he did in the 5th Century. So what has changed in 1,600 years? What will change? What if nothing changes? What if this is who and what we are? The greatest challenge we face as Armenians is how to survive and succeed on the world stage in spite of ourselves and not give up hope. Because despite the worst of our nature that St. Movses describes, somehow this small nation found a way to survive to this day. Let’s not lament over Armenia. Let’s rejoice over our children, grandchildren and the bright future that each of us can create for our nation.”

The quotation below is from Movses Khorenatsi’s trailblazing book, “History of the Armenians.” The chapter is titled, “Lament over the removal of the Armenian throne from Arsacid Family and of the archbishopric from the family of St. Gregory.” The book has been translated from Armenian into English by Prof. Robert W. Thomson of Harvard University. I have added in brackets a few clarifications to the translation.

5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi

5th century historian Movses Khorenatsi

Movses Khorenatsi wrote:

“I lament over you Armenia; I lament over who you are superior to all the nations of the north. For your king and priest, counselor and teacher, have been removed. Peace has been disturbed, disorder has taken root, orthodoxy has been shaken, and heresy has strengthened through ignorance.

“I pity you, church of Armenia, which has lost the splendor of the sanctuary and has been deprived of the noble pastor and his companion. No longer do I see your rational flock pastured in a verdant place and by peaceful waters nor gathered in a fold and protected from wolves, but scattered to the wilderness and precipices. ….

“The teachers are ignorant and presumptuous, taking honor by themselves and not called by God, elected by money and not by the [Holy] Spirit; lovers of gold and envious, they have abandoned gentleness, where God dwells, and have become wolves, tearing their own flocks.

“The religious are hypocritical, ostentatious, vainglorious, lovers of honor rather than lovers of God.

“The [senior] clergy are proud, slothful, frivolous, lazy, haters of the arts and instructive words, lovers of commerce and buffoonery.

“The students are lazy to study and eager to teach; they are theologians before their examinations [before they finish their studies].

“The laity are arrogant, insubordinate, blusterers, loafers, topers [drunks], pernicious, and they flee their patrimonies.

“The soldiers are cowards, false boasters, hating their weapons, negligent, lovers of ease, intemperate, thieves, drunkards, marauders, imitators of brigands.

“The princes are rebellious, companions of thieves, robbers [bribable], rapacious [greedy], avaricious, grasping, plunderers, despoilers of the land, depraved, likeminded with their subjects [servants].

“The judges are inhuman, false, deceitful, venal, [not protectors of rights] ignorant of the law, volatile, contentious.

“And [in general], love and shame have been entirely removed from all….”

“The kings are cruel and evil rulers, imposing heavy and onerous burdens and giving intolerable commands. Governors do not [keep the order] correct disorders and are unmerciful. Friends are betrayed and enemies strengthened. Faith is sold for this vain life. Brigands have come in abundance and from all sides. Houses are sacked and possessions ravaged. There is bondage for the foremost and prison for the famous. There is exile abroad for the nobility and innumerable outrages for the common people. Cities are captured and fortresses destroyed; towns are ruined and buildings burned. There are famines without end and every kind of [epidemic] illness and death. Piety has been forgotten and expectation is for hell….”

My friend who sent me this “lament” is comparing Movses Khorentasi’s description of the deplorable state in Armenia 1,600 years ago to today’s conditions in general both in Armenia and the Diaspora! Of course, one cannot generalize to everyone in Armenian society. There are respectable exceptions in every segment of our society, among the teachers, clergy, military, students, judges, and rulers.

I agree with my friend when he expresses the hope that our nation will survive despite all the shortcomings and setbacks, and despite all enemies inside and outside of the country, as it has for centuries since Movses Khorentatsi wrote his highly critical observations!

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