Of the Blessed Macarius,

Patriarch of the Holy City Jerusalem:

Canonical Letter to the Armeniansa


On Laying Down Canonical Ordinances for the Universal Church That Are Not Right to Transgress by Definition or Command


Nine Chapters

        216 5Because of your awe and fear of God and passionate longing for piety, 6I have hastened herewith to rouse your devout and sincere 217 1hearts to seek true piety, the right canonical regulations laid down 2for the Universal Church and the essential ordinances of God, which 3ought to be received with much care and observed with unswerving faith 4by all who fear God. Among whom you also should not be sluggish 5through some slothfulness, becoming indolent; but must make haste through the grace 6of the Holy Spirit, through the fervor and yearnings of the divine love, 7which not only makes those who are near (us) solicitous to supplicate, to seek the spiritual 8benefit, but also constrains those in the remote parts of the world to pursue with eager 9longings and ardent desires the quest that pleases God, 10even the salvation of souls--bearing in mind the saying that “You shall not hesitate 11to go a long way should there be someone 12who promises to teach (you) something beneficial.” Indeed you, on your own, have manifested such longing for spiritual rewards, 13for the very enriching, divine, (and) spiritual treasures, 14having sent a letter from a distant land, from your regions of the East to the holy 218 1city Jerusalem. This (letter), delivered by the reverend priests, 2was laid before the large assembly of bishops who had gathered together one by one from every 3city. Before whom appearing with spiritual entreaty, they asked for 4a response to the letter. Although we were reluctant, being overwhelmed 5by a sense of the lesser authority we hold within the greater tenets of the Church, 6we were nonetheless compelled by the spiritual supplication and the concern of these God-loving priests 7to write and to impart to your solicitous piety 8the main points of the essential ordinances of the Church, for the strengthening of the faith 9that knows no wavering, and the entire canons laid down by the holy Council 10which was held because of the heretics. It is essential that all 11pious people accept these, since it was held (also) to lay down ordinances for the Church.
        12Upon seeing the very careful ordering of the life-giving baptism in the Holy 219 1City, they were amazed with astonishment that the regions of the East are wanting in carefulness 2in many such matters. For in various places they have no regular fonts, 3but baptize in any usable vessel. And in some cases the deacons 4perform baptism. And bishops and priests independently 5hallow the oil of anointing. And since they do not have sufficient oil of sealing, which is from the Apostles and is kept here, 6they do not anoint the infant’s entire organs of sense. 7And in various places the priests at the time of baptism do not say that which was laid down by the Council. 8As for laying on of hands, the clergy are regarded equals in honor, 9and they do not subordinate themselves to superiors. There are many 10other irregularities, besides pride and indulgence, that have been introduced into the ordinances of the Church 11by carnal ones, as those who have come (hither) have made known to us.
        12We were amazed over that, greatly astonished. However, from fear of God we have not hesitated 13to write promptly—I, Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem, and 14the entire, large assembly of bishops who are with me—(and) to send to 15your regions of the East, to you, Christ-loving and reverend Chief-bishop 220 1Vrtanes, and to the whole body of bishops and priests of Armenia, 2to administer the rite of the great Sacrament of God with much care and reverence, 3as it is administered in the Universal Church; whereby forgiveness of sins and salvation of souls are granted 4out of the grace of the Spirit to those who are baptized in the holy 5font. And the Holy Spirit does not despise those who yearn for piety, 6but, bending low, descends and sanctifies through right confession of faith (and) by means of 7the water of the holy font. And in all this, it is not proper for bishops and presbyters to be indolent and slow 8to baptize those who wish 9to draw near to the piety of worshiping God. For this is a concern 10of priests and an essential task of the leaders of the Church 11to exhort in piety those who are willing, and to teach them by the word of doctrine 12to renounce Satan and to dedicate themselves to God through the illumination of the holy font; 13and not to become the cause of someone’s perdition by reason of (their) disobedience, 14through some imperfect thing in the rite of baptism owing to their slothfulness 221 1in not conferring the entire rite upon 2those who present themselves for baptism in the holy font. 3The Universal Church of God administers this (rite) with much care and joyous trembling, and without delay.
        4And now let us proceed to inquire closely into the aforementioned 5points, providing in writing that which 6you require.
[Regarding Baptism]
7I. Whether it is right for deacons to perform baptism, and is the Sacrament 8fulfilled (in such cases)?
        9Be it known to your Christ-loving fraternity, that this authority belongs to 10bishops and priests alone, and that it is not right for deacons 11to perform it, for they are attendants; consequently, it is closed 12to them. And there is more to the question: Is the person baptized by them made perfect? 13It is proper, then, first to inquire whether it is customary for deacons to baptize in a particular province; 14and if one were found to have done so, 222 1he is blameless because he merely succumbed to the customs of the province out of ignorance of the ordinances of the Church. 2But if he knew the ordinances of the Church and 3transgressed them, let the punishment be inflicted on him in proportion to his transgression.
4II. If they have no hallowed font, in what handy vessel (should) they baptize?
        5If there was no nearby church built to the glory of God for people to come into, 6(then), perhaps, there was nothing to blame. But if we have churches, 7we must also built baptisteries and a font in which to baptize those who come 8with true faith to piety. However, should there be a sick person 9where there is neither church nor regular font, it is not right to prevent the person willing 10to baptize; the baptism may be administered without the regular font, 11because the circumstances compel, (and) lest he be found a debtor for (someone’s) salvation 12by obstructing the baptism. For the Holy Spirit bestows grace upon the petitioner, 13and is not prevented by the vessel; 223 1and those who long for the grace of the Spirit are always satisfied.b
        284c 5Hence the ordinance of baptism of the holy font and the earnest observance 6of the three feasts during which those who are dedicated to God desire most eagerly 7to bring unto baptism those in darkness and to carry out 8the great form of the salutary mystery, which is carried out on these holy and prominent 9days. And this (form of the mystery) they hasten to carry out with great eagerness 10in the holy places of Christ; which all Christians, 11those who fear Christ, must also carry out in the baptismal service on these (days): 12on the holy Epiphany of the Nativity of the Lord, and <on> the saving Easter 13of the life-giving passion of Christ, and on the Pentecost full of grace—14when the Divine descent of the life-giving Spirit overflowed among us. 15It is therefore necessary to make known the significance of each of these feasts, of the Nativity and Baptism, 16so that you also may hasten to do the same. 17For on that same salutary day, with the luminous Nativity of Christ, our expiatory birth of the holy 18font is realized; for on that same day 19He Himself was baptized, condescending to be among us. For it was not that He was Himself 20in any need of cleansing, but He desired to cleanse us from the 21filth of sin, He who cries out with a loud voice, saying: “Unless one 22is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). 23In the same fashion as we are born with Him, we are baptized with Him 24on the same holy day of the Nativity of Christ.
        25Next, on the quickening resurrection of Easter, by mortifying 26our sins in the waters of the font, we become imitators of the mortification by death 27of our Lord Jesus Christ. And by the triple immersion, being buried 28in the waters of the holy font, we signify in the persons of those who are being baptized the three-day burial of our Lord. 29And this also the divine Apostle 30shows clearly, when he says: “Being buried with Him through baptism, 31let us become imitators of the likeness of His death, so that by the renewal 32of the resurrection we may become partakers wth Him in the life eternal” (Rom 6:4-5).d
        33But on the grace-bestowing <and> sanctifying day of Pentecost was the 34luminous manifestation of the life-giving Spirit, which, in the form of fiery tongues, 35descended on the Apostles, granting them that by laying hands on those who are baptized 36(these shall) receive gifts from the grace of the Spirit. After the same pattern 37we also, on the same day, bestow the same Spirit by laying hands on those who are baptized. 38We fulfill the pattern of this with unfailing care, 39 that we may become perfect.e
        223 11bAnd in faith we are anointed with the oil of holiness. 12And the established ordinances of the holy 224 1Church are thus regulated in every detail, without the transgression of any rule established and underscored 2by those of the heavenly ranks, as we learned from the spiritual Fathers, from the disciples 3of the Apostles.
4III. And how are the (hierarchical) orders of the holy Church regulated?
        5Let overseers at established posts be given authority to guide 6into goodness those for whose supervision they have been called. And let those receiving (guidance) from them 7be not puffed up with haughtiness, holding themselves to be wise 8while lapsing into foolishness, lapsing into wickedness. For although 9the spiritual gifts are commonly given to believers, still, they are not all of equal honor. 10And although the Infinite made Himself little, yet He lost not the glory of the Deity thereby; 11and (although) the Giver of Life manifested Himself to all the Apostles after 12His resurrection, yet some He ranks above the rest. 13And the same principle has been established among us. Accordingly, Paul does not allow (us) 225 1to climb over one another, saying: “Let each one to whatever calling he was called, 2abide in the same” (I Cor 7:20).
3IV. And how is each to be commanded to be content with his assigned 4rank?
        5Now, in meeting together with the clergy, we bishops and priests 6and deacons, I, Macarius, Archbishop of the holy city 7Jerusalem, hand down to you these regulations that have been learned 8from the accounts of the Apostles and firmly established for us through the tradition of the Fathers, 9namely, as we said above, the laying on of hands in the holy baptism 10is for bishops and priests alone to administer, 11and the chief-bishop (alone) shall bless the oil of holiness. But by reason of distance 12and weighty circumstances, at the command of the archbishop, two 13or three bishops may meet together (to bless is). As for deacons, they are attendants 226 1to the Sacrament. And the oil of anointing for the dead and the sick and for those to be baptized, 2the priests and the bishops shall individually bless. This our holy Fathers ruled, 3and let no one decree to change the rule rightly laid down, 4lest the binding of their anathemas be upon him, which shall be determined by God.
[Regarding the Eucharist]
5V. And how shall we draw near to the holy table and the life-giving 6Sacrament?
        7Let no one dare to come near to this cup of immortality in double-mindedness, or with lack of faith, 8or with improprieties, 9lest the will of God be moved unto wrath on all the earth. 10And he shall hear the saying: “Why do you keep recounting My righteousness 11when you have despised My discipline?” (Ps 50:16-17; LXX 49:16-17). But, approaching with right steps and true faith, 12let him be illumined and work out himself salvation for others also.
227 1VI. And how is it proper to administer the Sacrament?
        2It is necessary to administer the saving Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord with fear 3and care, and to make right confession of faith, 4distinct from the ensnaring sacraments of the heretics; lest, through the proximity of Arians, 5“the name and truth of God 6be blasphemed” (Rom 2:24), according to the Apostle.
7VII. And by what guideline shall the offering of the Sacrament be carried out?
        8The holy bread is to be brought to the table, hot—according to the tradition of the Apostles; 9and <the cup> incorruptible—without any admixture: “For we are redeemed not with corruptible things, 10but with the incorruptible Body <and Blood> of the spotless and unblemished Lamb” (I Pet 1:18-19). And 228 1this shall the deacons prepare, as far as to the table, but that which is performed 2upon it the priests shall perform.
3VIII. And how shall the table of the Sacrament be positioned, and (what about) 4the partitions also?
        5The table of expiation is behind the veil, where the Holy Spirit descends; 6and the font is next to it in the same compartment, and out of honor set up on the right hand. 7And the clergy in their several ranks shall worship (there), and the congregation 8outside the veil, and the catechumens at the door, listening. 9Lest there partitions be effaced by encroachments, let each 10remain in his own station irreproachable.
        11(IX.) This injunction concerning the faith and ordinances of the Church I hand down to you 12in accordance with your supplications, and we pronounce an anathema on those 13who are contrary-minded. For having received grace from one another through the laying on of hands, 14we do not tolerate shortcomings; nor do we esteem as being of equal honor 229 1the offices rightly ordained for the Church. And we reprimand those persons who crave glory, 2who hold the opposite opinion, as has been reported to us of Torg, 3Bishop of Besean and Bagrewand, who for a little time 4was united with the Arians, then repented through remorse, and now again 5is most insolently minded, (being) a bishop only with a seat, and conferring on himself the honor (reserved) for an archbishop, 6which he is not worthy to receive. For 7the Fathers handed down none of these perversions introduced into the Church, 8and it is unbefitting to regard (him as) an equal—unless he succeeds to the honor of the seat by (divine) calling. 9Therefore you must gently summon such a person to 10obedience, but should he persist in the same, then shun him as an alien (cf. Mt 18:15-17).
        11All the churches greet you. Fare you well in the Lord, being firm and right in faith. Amen.

a. Translation by Abraham Terian (Macarius of Jerusalem: Letter to the Armenians, AD 335. Yonkers, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2008. Print.).
b. The eleventh-century redaction in the Kanonagirk adds, "Nor is the administration (of the rite) on major feasts 2only, for the Apostles were not baptizing with a preference for the feasts, 3but, to the satisfaction of those who came to them, were illuminating by making rebirth through the waters possible",
in direct contradiction to the original admonition of St. Macarius.
c. §284:5-39 is from a fragment of the Letter preserved since the 7th century by Anania of Shirak.
d. Kanonagirk repeats, “And by the triple immersion … eternal' (Rom 6:4-5)”, as §223:4-9a.
e. Kanonagirk adds the following redaction, "And thus when we lay hands with right confession of faith, 10the Holy Spirit is bestowed for our salvation, illuminating 11athose who are called to adoption;" as §223:9b-11a.
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