Gevorgian Seminary

Gevorkian Theological Seminary[1] (Armenian: Գևորգյան Հոգևոր Ճեմարան Gevorkyan Hogevor Č̣emaran), also known as Gevorkian Seminary[2][3] (Armenian: Գևրգյան Ճեմարան Gevorkyan Č̣emaran, pronounced [gɛvɔɾkʰˈjɑn t͡ʃɛmɑˈɾɑn]), is a theological university-institute[4] of the Armenian Apostolic Church founded by Catholicos George IV in 1874. It is located in the town of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin) within the complex of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia.

Gevorkian Theological Seminary
Գևորգյան Հոգևոր Ճեմարան
Gevorkian Seminary
TypeSeminary, Theological Institute
EstablishedOctober 5, 1874 (1874-October-05)
AffiliationArmenian Apostolic Church
DirectorBishop Gevorg Saroyan
Location, ,
40°09′43″N 44°17′37″E
ColoursPurple, Gold
WebsiteOfficial website

Gevorkian Seminary is considered the oldest university in modern Armenia.


During the tenure of Catholicos Gevorg IV (1866–1884), he called for the creation of a theological school at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin to meet the educational needs of the clergy. In the summer of 1872 he called upon Archimandrites Gevork Surenian, Vahan Bastanian, Vahram Mankuni and Aristakes Sedrakian to facilitate the re-establishment of the historic school. It was decided to open a new seminary.

Nineteenth century

On 18 May 1869, the cornerstone of the Gevorkian Seminary was laid on the north grounds of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The foundation stone was installed by Catholicos Gevorg IV. During the celebration ceremony writer Gazaros Aghayan was present. “On May 25 we witnessed the happy occasions, one of which was the second year anniversary of the Catholicos’ consecration and the other – the founding of the seminary" (Ararat, Vagharshapat, 1869 Issue). The seminary was under construction from 1869–1874. During this same time the Armenian Church was under negotiations with the Tsarist government regarding the opening of the school. On 28 September 1874, the seminary building was ready, and its completion celebrated. A few days later, on 5 October 1874, Gulkovich, the Officer of the Caucasus Commission, informed Archimandrite Bastanian that the tsar had approved the seminary charter and it was allowed to open. The seminary began its mission after overcoming many difficulties.

The seminary had its first graduates during the 1885–86 academic year. To improve the teaching of ecclesiastical subjects Catholicos Markar I (1885–1891) invited Bishop Malachai Ormanian to teach at the seminary. His guidance helped to strengthen the role of these subjects; moreover, in one year Bishop Ormanian recruited students to the seminary who were eager and ready to study the ancient Armenian Church. The famous contemporaries of this generation were Catholicos Gevork V (1911–1930), Archimandrite Komitas, Karekin I of the Great House of Cilicia and Bishop Karapet Mkrtchian.

General view of the seminary building

The Gevorkian Seminary was the only academic institution where the science of education, psychology, logic and philosophy were taught, with the primary aim to prepare a core group of skilled and trained teachers. The development and implementation of the Educational Sciences in the seminary were founded by through the efforts of S. Mandikian, N. Karamian, A. Oltetsian, G. Edilian, and A. Shavarshian. Great emphasis was also given to the history of the Armenian people, literature, bibliography, ethnography, music, architecture and art etc.

New colleagues replaced this first generation of educators. The graduates of the seminary were invited to teach, among them Manuk Abeghian, Archbishop Karekin Hovsepiants, Bishop Karapet Mkrtchian, Komitas and others.

The seminary was also charged with the task of preparing teachers for secular schools. On 16 September 1888, Catholicos Makar l (1885–1891) added an appendix to the charter of the seminary, which affirmed the goal of this educational institution to prepare the Armenian clergy. During the first 43 years of existence, the seminary prepared 43 clergymen/teachers who in turn provided education for thousands of students. While the seminary was founded as a Theological School the true benefits of the school were more secular in nature, as the graduates built an important educational and cultural wealth in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Early 20th century

The founding of the seminary coincided with a period of emergence of Armenian culture and an increase of intellectuals. However, at the time, the Tsarist government was engaged in a policy of closing the local parish schools. Withstanding this difficult period, the seminary was able to preserve its existence until 1917 and was the tying and uniting force for Armenian schools and culture. The seminary gathered Armenian young men from all over the world; it educated them and sent them back to their homes, expecting them to open Armenia schools and pass on what they had learned.

During the first 43 years, the seminary carried out its mission with a high level of responsibility toward the Armenian Church, empowering her with a valiant legion of clergy as well as meritorious armenologists, philologists, historians, musicians, teachers and patriotic public figures. Among the notable graduates are Catholicos Gevork Vl Chorekchian, Karekin l Hovsepiants (Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia), Bishop Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian, Ruben Ter-Minasian, Komitas, Ervand Ter-Minasian, Arshak Ter-Mikaelian, Manuk Abeghian, Nikoghaios Adonts, Stepan Malkhasiants, Avetik Isahakian, Aksel Bakunts, Levon Shant and many other worthy teachers and clergymen.

During the time of the Armenian genocide, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was filled with massive numbers of refugees. Due to the tragic situation facing the Armenian nation, Catholicos Gevork I and the director, Bishop Karekin Hovsepiants, decided to temporarily close the seminary in December 1917, with great hope that it would reopen the next year.

It was not until 1921, that efforts to reopen the seminary were able to begin. Catholicos Gevork V Sureniants (1911–1930), Catholicos Khoren l Muradbekian (1932–1938) and Archbishop Karekin Hovsepiants took important steps to reopening the school. These efforts were finally realized due to the consecutive activities of Catholicos Gevork Vl Chorekchian (1941–1954).

In 1925, word was received by then Archbishop Khoren Muradbekian (who was the representative of the Catholicos) that the Peoples Commissariat Council had produced a resolution granting the reopening of the seminary. The news reached all Armenian dioceses and congratulations with financial aid were sent to Catholicos Gevork V. However, this resolution did not materialize.

On 28 June 1928, Catholicos Gevork V applied to the president of the Peoples Commissariat Council Sahak Ter-Gabrielian to reopen the seminary. A building was allocated, but the government confiscated it stating a temporary need. It was never returned to the church and is currently the State Central Archive of the Republic of Armenia.

Backside view of the building

When Catholicos Khoren I was consecrated, one of his urgent tasks became the issue of reopening the seminary. In his first decree on 20 February 1933, he stated “ … at these prudent and cautious times it is imperative that we improve the hard financial situation of Mother See, save and enrich the united brotherhood, serve the children of the church and propagate the truth of life in high religious school that today are closed because of war and difficult conditions.”

Even before his consecration in 1941, Catholicos Gevork VI emphasized the necessity of reopening the seminary by introducing appropriate projects to the National Ecclesiastical Assembly. Supreme Archimandrite (Dzayrakooyn Vardabed) Srapion contributed to the reopening. He prepared a document consisting of 10 items, which represented the charter. The charter included information regarding the six-year course for the students. According to the charter, the seminary should have three two-year terms and enroll 36 sweet-voiced and healthy pupils who after the graduation must serve the Armenian Apostolic Church. In cases where the graduate was unable to become a clergyman, the student, according to written agreement, would pay the expenses that were incurred during his education.

The Armenian Diaspora contributed to the successful re-opening. The Primate of the Armenian Church in America, Archbishop Tirair Ter-Hovhanesian having heard about the seminary conveyed to Catholicos Khoren I his wish to pay for the expenses for three students. The sum of the Sanasar Testament should also be used for the seminary. Upon his consecration in 1941 as Catholicos of All Armenians, Catholicos Gevork VI immediately issued his first decree noting the importance of reopening the seminary.

1945 reopening

Front space of the Seminary

On 1 November 1945, after closure for 38 years, the doors of the Gevorkian Theological Seminary were opened again for young Armenians to become priests in the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, times were difficult. There were over 300 churches that were closed by the communist government. “On 1 November 1945, the reopening of the Theological Seminary took place. Well-known scientists and former graduates were present at the ceremony among them St. Malhasian, Ervand Shahaziz, Av. Isahakian, and many others. As witnesses claim the eyes of Catholicos Gevork Vl were streaming with tears of happiness while saying the opening prayer. Classes commenced on 2 November 1945.”[5]

Catholicos Gevork Vl received a great number of congratulation messages on this occasion. It is important to mention the congratulation telegram of a Gevorkian Seminary graduate, the Catholicos Karekin l of the Great House of Cilicia which says, “We direct our congratulations on the occasion of the Seminary reopening” (Etchmiadzin Monthly, November–December issue, 1945).

On 6 September 1945 according to the decree and ratification by the Supreme Spiritual Council the position of director of the seminary was given to the experienced educator and English language specialist Minas Minasian.

The Seminary entered new stage of its history with new pupils and new teachers. The reopening was celebrated with great solemnity and splendour. The newly opened Gevorkian Theological Seminary consisted of skilled teaching staff and students who were diligent and decent. Catholicos Gevork Vl himself followed the students educational progress, the quality of their food and clothes, as well as other everyday circumstances of the students. In 1951 the dream of Catholicos Gevork Vl to reap the fruits of the seminary activities came true, when the Seminary had its first graduates. Nine students completed six courses of the seminary, the majority of them with excellent and good marks.

Current status

Gevorkian Seminary dormitory opened in 1999
Sports and events centre of Gevorkian Seminary opened in 2011

Serious restructuring of the Gevorkian Seminary took place in 1999 when Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, ascended the throne of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Catholicos Karekin proposed to increase the number of students while at the same time raising the responsibilities of the administrative and teaching staff.

Under the supervision and immediate participation of the Catholicos, the educational curriculum of the seminary underwent fundamental changes. To guarantee a high level of education, doctors, professors and candidates of sciences; who have devoted their lives to educate Armenian youth and develop sciences, were invited to teach in the seminary.

In 2001–2002 the Gevorkian Theological Seminary acquired the status of an Institution of Higher Religious Education (theological university). After review of the restructuring and enhanced curriculum, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Armenia granted the seminary the status of a Religious University. In 2002, a major reconstruction effort was undertaken due to the donations of Gevork and Sirvard Hovnanian of the United States. Every room of the seminary has been refinished, and the structural integrity of the building enhanced. The new classrooms were used starting with the 2003/2004 school year.


The academic council is the governing body of the seminary. The council is headed by the Catholicos of All Armenians.[6] The educational methods committee of the seminary has a consulting role. The members of the committee are selected through the initiation of the academic council, approved by the Catholicos.[7] In November 2015, the cultural committee of the seminary was formed.

Currently the seminary has the following chairs:[8]

  • Chair of Biblical studies.
  • Chair of Historical Theology.
  • Chair of Christian Doctrine.
  • Chair of Practical Theology.
  • Chair of Philology.
  • Chair of Humanities.

The seminary offers bachelor, master and PhD degrees in the above-mentioned fields.

See also