Saint Nerses
Born Fourth century
Died 373
Venerated in Catholicos of Armenia
Feast N/A

Saint Nerses I the Great (Armenian: Սուրբ Ներսես Ա. Մեծ ) was an Armenian Catholicos (or Patriarch) who lived in the fourth century. He was the father of another catholicos, Saint Sahak I. His father was At'anagenes and his mother was Bambish, the sister of King Tiran.[1]

Born of the royal Gregorid stock, he spent his youth in Caesarea where he married Sanducht, a Mamikonian princess. After the death of his wife, he was appointed sword-bearer to King Arshak II. A few years later, having entered the ecclesiastical state, he was elected catholicos in 353.

His patriarchate marks a new era in Armenian history. Till then the Church had been more or less identified with the royal family and the nobles; Nerses brought it into closer connection with the people. At the Council of Ashtishat he promulgated numerous laws on marriage, fast days, and divine worship. He built schools and hospitals, and sent monks throughout the land to preach the Gospel.

Nerses held a synod at Ashtishat that, among other things, forbade people to marry their first cousin and forbade mutilation and other extreme actions in mourning.[2]

Some of these reforms drew upon him the king's displeasure, and he was exiled, supposedly to Edessa. It was probably at some point during the later part of Arshak's reign that Nerses went to Constantinople to ensure the emperor's support of Armenia against the Persians. According to P'awstos Buzandac'i's account Emperor Valens became outraged at Nerses condemning his following the teachings of Arius and sent Nerses into exile.[3] While Nerses was in exile Xad was the leader of the church in Armenia.

Upon the accession of pro-Arian King Pap (369) he returned to his see. Pap proved a dissolute and unworthy ruler and Nerses forbade him entrance to the church. Under the pretence of seeking a reconciliation, Pap invited Nerses to his table and reportedly poisoned him in 373.


This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. P'awstos Buzandac'i, History of Armenia, p. 81
  2. Lang, David Marshall. Armenia: Cradle of Civilization (Boston: Geoge Allen & Unwin, 1970) p. 160
  3. Pawstos, Armenia, p. 99
Preceded by
Pharen I of Armenia
Catholicoi of the Holy See of St. Echmiadzin and All Armenians
Succeeded by
Sahak I
ru:Нерсес I Великий

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