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Ananias of Shirak, On Christmas, The Expositor, 5th series vol. 4 (1896) Preface. pp.321-323.



The following homily is translated from an Armenian writer, Ananias, son of John of Shirak, who lived early in the seventh century. In a brief autobiography which this writer left behind him, he describes how as a youth he went to the Greek city, Theodoupolis, in search of a mathematical teacher, named Eliazar. Thence he went to another teacher called Christodotus, in fourth Armenia, for six months. Thence to Constantinople, and then to Trebizond, where he remained eight years as the pupil of a certain Tychicus, learned in both Greek and Armenian, who lived by the shrine of S. Eugenia. Tychicus, he says, had a vast library full of books apocryphal and open, ecclesiastical and profane, scientific and historical, medical or chronological. During the reign of the Emperor Maurice (who died 602), Tychicus had visited Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and Athens in pursuit of learning and of books.

Thus it is conceivable that Ananias had access even to primitive sources now lost to us, and in forming an estimate of the genuineness of the long citation from Polycarp of Ephesus with which this homily concludes, this should be taken into account. I drew attention to this citation of Polycarp in the Guardian (1894, July 18), and Professor Harnack, in his Theologische Literaturzeitung (1894, No. 23), wrote in regard to it as follows: "What is related of Polycarp may be believed at a pinch, if we compare the information given by Irenaeus about the communications of Presbyters of Asia Minor; and if one thinks how early questions must have emerged about the day and month of important events in the life of Jesus; and if one also takes into account----supposing one esteems them to be |322 genuine----the alleged Responsiones of Polycarp handed down by Victor."

Professor Harnack, however, leans against the genuineness of the citation, because he cannot believe the account given by Ananias in his other tract on Easter of the calendarial activity of Aristides the Apologist, and of Leonidas, father of Origen. Surely this is hypercritical. Ananias may have been wrong about the latter, and yet have been right about Polycarp; especially if----as Harnack admits----the citation is on other grounds likely to be genuine. In any case, the citation----of which the text is, unhappily, it would seem, mutilated----must be read as part of the whole treatise, before its authenticity can be properly appraised. And I cannot but think that the general tone of the treatise is greatly in favour of it. For it proves the absolute bona fides of Ananias----proves that he is not making it up, but is quoting some document which claimed to be Polycarp's own writing. And this document was probably a note in some old calendarial document which he had read in the rich library of Tychicus of Trebizond. It is just in such documents that one expects to find preserved old opinions of the earliest fathers. This very treatise of Ananias seems to have formed, along with his other treatise on Easter, the exordium of an elaborate calendar, which, some one unspecified constructed of a cycle of 532 years,1 from the year 828 of the reckoning of Alexandria to the year 1360 of the same. This we learn from the close of his treatise on Easter.

Of almost equal interest with the excerpt of Polycarp is the allusion to those, whoever they were, who declared that the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25, and apart from the feast of the baptism, was invented by the disciples of Cerinthus. If so, we can understand the hesitation of the orthodox Church to adopt our modern festival of Christmas. Probably the real significance of the early union of the Nativity with the Baptism is that the Baptism was regarded as itself the true Birth of Christ. Docetic opinion may have been too strong in the earliest Church to permit of his carnal or earthly birth being celebrated at all. Sometime in the fourth century the very early |323 reading in Luke iii. 23: "Thou art My beloved Son, This day have I begotten Thee," was erased from nearly all codices; no doubt because it was the stronghold of those who had declared the Baptism alone to be the true nativity of Jesus Christ. Ananias also gives us some new data as regards the gradual diffusion of our modern Christmas.

The citation from Makarius I., Patriarch of Jerusalem, is also interesting; and not less so the information about the lectionary of Cyril of Jerusalem. The latter is new. As for Makarius, I hope shortly to publish in English the full text of his Encyclical to the Armenians on the feasts which should be observed in the Church.----Fred. C. Conybeare.

1. 1 I.e., one Dionysian cycle, so called.

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