MECHITAR OF SEBASTE (Mkhitar Sebastatsi, Armenian: Մխիթար Սեբաստացի), born Manuk  (7.2.1676 - 27.4.1749).   An  Armenian prominent scholar and theologian who founded the Mekhitarist Congregation. His parents were Petros and Shahristan. Buried in San Lazzaro Island.

Mechitar received his primary education in St.  Nshan monastery of Sebastia (1685-91), Mechitar of Sebastethen he studied in the monasteries of Echmiadzin, Sevan, Karin (1691-92). Mechitar moved to Aleppo in 1695, where he met Latin priests. In 1691 he was ordained a deacon, in 1696 celibate priest, and  in 1699 he was ordained a priest. At the age of twenty he decided to found congregation of preachers, the aim of which was to contribute to the increase of  the educational and spiritual level of the Armenian people, as well as to the academic and cultural activities. The members of the congregation should not be only hieromonks; but also the leaders, who could contribute to the nation’s enlightment. In 1697 he shared his idea with Khachatur Erzrumtsi, who welcomed his idea. 

In 1700 Mechitar gathered 8 pupils  and preached Catholicism, he founded his congregation and published 4 religious books: “The Imitation of Christ “ by Thomas à Kempis (1700-01), “Commentary on Song of Solomon” by Khachatur  Erzrumetsi (1700-01), the translations of Petros Tiflisetsi from Latin “The Book of Revelation of John the Evangelist” (1700-01) and  “The Book of Common Prayer” (1701). After two years Mechitar of Sebaste moved his congregation  to Europe to the fortress Modone, under the Venetian rule, a place away from the confessional contrasts of the capital city. He built the first Armenian church there. 

In 1712 the Pope ratified the constitution of the congregation, which was based on the Benedictine Rule. Mechitar of Sebaste became “Abbot”. In 1715 Turkish invasion of Morea compelled Mechitar to leave Modone and to move to Venice.  In 1717 he obtained the island of San Lazzaro for his Congregation from the Senate. 

On September 8, 1717 Mechitar of Sebaste and his 16 pupils entered that leper colony;St. Lazarus Island which due to his efforts became a monastery. Here Mechitar of Sebaste started explanatory, theological, linguistic, as well as administrative, educational, publishing, economic, monastic activities.

Due to the efforts of Mechitar of Sebaste the Congregation  became scientific cultural center.  He built a church in the island of St. Lazarus, opened a school, which he called “university”. The educational program were based on theology, anyhow, the students received interdisciplinary education. The foreigners were refused to study here, in this way Mechitar of Sebaste tried to increase the number of Armenian educated monks, who would spread enlightment among common Armenian people.  He founded a library, began to collect and study Armenian ancient manuscripts, compiled text-books. Mechitar of Sebatse published near 50 books (14 of them were written by him). Most of these books  were to preach Christian doctrine.

The Bible published in 1733 was significant with exquisite engravings, decorative letters and nice marginal. Mechitar of Sebaste compared it with seven other translations using the samples of Holly Book in Armenian. In 1727 he published the textbook “The Transfer of Modern Armenian into Grammar”, the text of which was Turkish in Armenian letters. The latter was for the Armenians in Turkey. The appendix of the textbook was Armenian-Turkish dictionary. Mechitar of Sebaste made great efforts to popularize the religious education. He published the book for children “Book on Christian Doctrine” (1727).  In 1730 he published “Grammar of Classical Armenian”  by this book he tried to deprive Latin words from the Armenian language “Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew” by Mechitar of Sebaste (1737) was  Mekhitarist Congregationone of his distinguished works. This book was based on works by Thomas Aquinas, and other works by European writers. So it is obvious that catholic doctrine was the expression of his theoretical beliefs and it was not “political factor” (H. Acharyan) or “diplomatic tool” (A. Chopanyan). Anyhow, he was criticized by apostolic and catholic Armenians. Apostolic Armenians accused him  of admitting Roman church, catholic Armenians considered him to be rebellious and independent and independent from the dominion of Roman church. The reason of such kind of accusation was that Mechitar of Sebaste acknowledged the dominion of Roman Catholic church, but remained Armenophile and patriot. He was still faithful to the national rituals. According to him nation and religion are different notions; therefore there is no need to sacrifice one for the other. He preached brotherhood and peace, and was against religious disagreement between the Armenians, the name of Catholicos of all Armenians was written on the first pages of his books. Mechitar of Sebaste opposed to  the fact that catholic Armenians could  have their separate catholicosate.

“Armenian Dictionary” by Mechitar of Sebaste was a  great contribution to the Armenian Studies. The author began to write this book from 1727 and continued till his death. The book was published after his death.  The last part of the introduction of the book is symbolic, it  is dedicated to the Armenian people.  This book examines the linguistic phenomena of the Armenian Language. It was significant in world lexicography as well.

Mechitar of Sebaste  made the activities of the Congregation continuous.

It is not by chance that he was called “Second Gregory the Illuminator”, “Second Mesrop”, etc.. The Congregation was named after him after Mechitar’s death, Mechitar’s  mission was later carried out by his pupils. They expanded and deepened their teacher’s benefitting program keeping the traditions of the Congregation  for three centuries.




Source: Encyclopedia of «Christian Armenia», editor in chief Hovhannes Ayvazyan, Yerevan, 2002, page 737-739. (in Armenian).


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