ABBOT MEKHITAR (1676-1749)
Abbot Mekhitar was born in Sepasdia in 1676, when the major part of Armenia and its people were living very difficult days. He was a child when he received a religious education. Dying of thirst for a higher education he went to Echmiadzine, Sevan and Pasen convents where, disappointed, he didn't find what he was expecting. Since his adolescence years, he dedicated himself to indefatigable reading and self-culture in St. Nshan convent. When he was twenty years old, barely consecrated a priest, he conceived to gather students and to establish a congregation witnessing the bad financial and intellectual state of Armenia, in order to work collectively to increase the spiritual, moral and intellectual levels of the Armenian people.
It was a good idea, a beautiful plan but hard to be realized at those days.
In 1700, surrounded by nine students, he put the basis of the institution that he was dreaming about, which was going to be called by his name: MEKHITARIST CONGREGATION.
Being pursued by relatives for his religious and national conciliating persuasions, he took refuge first in Meton (Greece) and then in 1715 , he went to Venice definitively. He received the property of St. Lazar island from the authorities by his personal efforts and the help of his friends. He settled there officially in September 8, 1717 with sixteen cenobites.
From that date, the uninhabited island became the cradle of the Armenian culture , and the most active center of the Armenian revival of the 18th century.
Mekhitar had one aim in his life: preparing monks in order to preach mental enlightenment and knowledge to the Armenian people.
He dedicated his entire life to the enlightenment of his people, being impressed by such a moral vigor which didn't know to stop in front of obstacles.
He had a deep faith, an exceptional will, a strong and a keen mind, being endowed by intellectual and spiritual exceptional talents.
He started to work hardly and continuously with an endless enthusiasm in the construction, religion and education fields.
The literary production of Mekhitar constitutes around twenty publications among which the most evident one was "Haïgazian Dictionary", which was published in 1749, after three weeks of his death. It was one of Mekhitar's greatest merits. An extensive work and a difficult undertaking which became the basis and the salvation of our language.
However, the biggest innovation in his publications which was greeted as the biggest innovation was "The Holy Bible", opening a new century.
In addition to these, he had also linguistic, explanative and poetic works.
Mekhitar is an intelligent person by mind and capacity, he reached the highest degrees of knowledge by his personal efforts, having an intelligence which made us love knowledge.
By his work, Mekhitar became not only the founder of a religious institution, but also he recreated the literary, cultural, educational and knowledge movement which always improved and extended and starting from 1800's, he succeeded practically to inspire a strong national spirit , understanding and love towards the national historical and cultural treasures , faith to begin a new period with the blooming of an intellectual and literary life.
In the epilogue of the Holy Bible that he published, he transmitted as a testament the doctrine of two ideas of religion and patriotism without sacrificing one for the other. The direction that he gave became the character of his students.
It is necessary to see his real value in the renovation of a religious and cultural life and in the conception of a clear plan in the aim of realizing it and specially in that strong will, who knew how to create a literary movement center and give to it the necessary push in order to his successors to improve his undertakings and give to them stability and fertile life.
After the declination centuries, Mekhitar was the first who inspired us with religion, homeland, truth and art ideas, he changed our mentality, dispersed the heavy darkness in the Armenian mind horizon, opening a new world of light, knowledge and life.
MEKHITARIST COUPLE BRANCHES AND REUNIFICATION
Mekhitar died in April 27, 1749. The young abbot Stepanos Melkonian (1750-1800) succeeded to him. Because of specific divergences, a group of monks went away from St. Lazar island going to Triest in 1773. They settled definitively in Vienna in 1811 being welcomed by the Austrian empire. The Mekhitarist couple branches dedicated themselves with hard work to the Armenian people's educational, cultural and pastoral services.
The Mekhitarist Congregation, with its couple historical branches of Vienna and Venice, after many years of negotiations and studies, organized a general extraordinary meeting in St. Lazar mother monastery of Venice from July 10 to 21, 2000, with the participation of all the cenobites of the two institutions. The cenobite monks of this meeting decided together to realize an immediate and complete union, by creating one Mekhitarist united congregation with one central committee.
This historical step coincided with the 300th anniversary of the congregation established by the preacher Mekhitar Sepasdatsi, the 2000th jubilee of Christianity, also with the 1700th anniversary of the official acceptance of the Christian religion in Armenia.
Actually, there is one Mekhitarist Congregation, which principal center is St. Lazar mother monastery of Venice and the convent of Vienna became as the first principal monastery. The monastery of Vienna, has in its turn, an abbot holding the title of local abbot.
All the mission places and the centers of the two congregations are managed by the general abbot and his united administrative council.
Actually, the number of the Mekhitarist congregation members is 26 including the 3 bishops.
MEKHITARISTS' CULTURAL ACTIVITY
The cenobites who joined Mekhitar's institution, followed his example with fidelity , trying to realize his ideal and to improve the general plan in a logical way. It means to study and to make it familiar to the Armenian people, in his historical, clerical, literary, linguistic, knowledge and cultural values during centuries.
It is in front of this evident work that the 19th century revival became incomprehensible without the Mekhitarists.
Mekhitar and his successors, with a planned work, collected during years Armenian excellent manuscripts, saving them from being lost. Today, the Mekhitarist libraries have around more than 5000 manuscripts abundant collection with a valuable and exceptional importance.
During centuries, the two Mekhitarist convents being far from world destroying calamities, collected from abroad and from Armenia Armenian editions with patience and attention, forming a rich library, with ten thousand volumes, in Armenian and European languages, also monthly newspapers and ancient rare Armenian newspapers.
In the rich museums of Venice and Vienna are preserved invaluable treasures. In their show-windows are exposed proudly ancient Armenian monies, carpets, porcelains, silver work and sacred art samples and Armenian costumes.
Since 300 years, the Mekhitarist press and the publishing house continue to work conscious of their role and function and till today the number of Mekhitarist publications is thousands of volumes without taking into consideration the Mekhitarist periodicals.
The Armenian academy of St. Lazar, founded in 1843 and the convent of Vienna had their official Newspapers "Pazmaveb" and "Hantes Amsoria". Both of them, continue to accomplish their qualified work till today.
From both Mekhitarist convents printing-press were published a long series of publications, constituting the collection of the classic Armenian authors (in literal language).
Then came the Historico-philological studies. The integral Armenian history and the literature restored. The perverted classic Armenian language (the literal) purified with convenient grammars and investigating studies.
The most important works of the Greek, Latin, Italian, French, German and English literatures became translated into Armenian. And also, a voluminous library of universal contemporary literary master pieces translations.
In 1784, the Armenian nation had its complete history for the first time due to Michael Chamchian's three volumes publication, who taking his notes from all Armenian and foreign resources, put the basis of the Armenian critical history.
Artist monks started to engrave Armenian maps, illustrate books, publish works of art, pictures of Armenian historical places and monuments in order to revive the love of the Armenian land and the Armenian Culture in the souls.
The Armenian theatrical movement started also to spread abroad in the 19th century due to Mekhitarist students and extended to the Armenian colonies.
In 1836-1837, "The New Dictionary of Haïgazian Language" , the two volume dictionary became published , which till today remained excellent as the most vast and irreplaceable dictionary . The only one of its kind and the glory to the Armenology.
For the first time, the popular Armenian, the modern became the literary language, entering in the Armenian reality, with annals and Puzantian style periodicals publications.
Napoleon I Bonaparte, recognizing the exceptional appearance of the Mekhitarists' intellectual activity, considered with a special empirical permit in 1810, the Mekhitarist mother monastery of Venice as an academic institution. In addition to the famous Armenian scientists, European Armenolog scientists joined also as members.
It is impossible to recognize and to appreciate the Mekhitarists if their Armenian character was forgotten.
Judge as you want, find in their works each possible fault, call them partials, but there is one thing which is undoubted: their Armenian nationality or the so-called "the Mekhitarist nationalism". The representative of the Armenian modern poem and a Mekhitarist student, Taniel Varoujan declared with glory: " My brain is proud by the pride of the Mekhitarist ideal".
Today also the Mekhitarist congregation, in spite of the last years several life difficulties, continues its sacred mission following the path that drew its founder.
THE MEKHITARIST SCHOOLS
With the literary activity, the Mekhitarist Fathers surrounded the important Armenian colonies with scholastic net, being persuaded that education and mind enlightenment are necessary for the new generations . They with their schools, had played an important role in the past and continue to play today with the deep consciousness of protecting the nation. Many national figures, writers, poets, artists and politicians graduated from the Mekhitarist schools.
Today the Mekhitarists have schools in Paris, Constantinople , Aleppo , Beirut , Buenos Aires and Los Angeles.
THE MEKHITARIST FATHERS' WEBSITE
The Mekhitarist Fathers' Monastic Order's website is found at:
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