Mechitar (MECHITHAR, MEKHITAR, MCHITAR Or MOCHTOR, a word which means “Comforter”), is the name taken by Peter Manuk, founder of the religious order of Mechitarists, when he became a monk. A native of Sebaste (Sivas) in Lesser Armenia, b. February 7, 1676, of parents reputed noble, he was left until the age of fifteen in the care of two pious nuns. Then he entered the cloister of the Holy Cross near Sebaste, and the same year (1691), was ordained deacon by Bishop Ananias. Shortly afterwards, impelled by his thirst for knowledge, he left the cloister—not putting off the habit or infringing his vows (the Eastern monk could, for a proper reason, lawfully leave the enclosure) and set forth, in the company of a doctor of that city, for Etchmiadzin, the capital of Greater Armenia, persuaded that it was the center of civilization and the home of all the sciences. During the journey he met with a European missionary and a fellow Armenian, whose accounts of the wonders of the West changed the course of his life. Stirred with an admiration of Western culture and the desire to introduce it among his countrymen, he wandered from place to place, earning a scanty living by teaching. After eighteen months he returned to Sebaste where he remained for some time, still ambitious to study Western civilization. Even then he had conceived the idea of founding a religious society—suggested, doubtless, by the well-intentioned but long since suppressed association of the “United Brothers”—which would labor to introduce Western ideas and Western influence into Armenia. This would imply a formal reunion of the Armenian Church with Rome, and there would be an end of that wavering between Constantinople and Rome, so injurious to the spiritual and intellectual welfare of his country. At Sebaste, he devoted himself to the reading of the Armenian sacred writers and the Syrian and Greek Fathers in translations, and, after a vain attempt to reach Europe from Alexandria, he was ordained priest (1696) in his own city, and (1699) received the title and staff of doctor (Vartabed). Then he began to preach, and went to Constantinople with the intention of founding an Armenian College. He continued his preaching there, generally in the church of St. George, gathered some disciples around him, and distinguished himself by his advocacy of union with the Holy See. Serious trouble ensued with a violent persecution of the Catholics by the Turks, excited by the action of Count Ferrol, minister of Louis XIV at Stamboul, who carried off to Paris the anti-Catholic Patriarch of Constantinople. Naturally, the fervor of Mechitar and his disciples in the Catholic cause, and the success of their preaching singled them out for special attention. The two patriarchs, urged by a schismatic, Avedik, led the attack. Mechitar wisely dismissed his disciples and himself took refuge in a Capuchin convent under French protection. Pursued by his enemies, he es-caped to the Morea, thence to Venetian territory, finding shelter in a Jesuit house. He attributed his safety to our Blessed Lady, under whose protection, on September 8, the Feast of her Nativity, he had solemnly placed himself and his society.
The Venetians kindly gave him some property at Modon (1701), where he built a church and convent, and laid the foundations of the Mechitarist Order. Clement XI gave it formal approval in 1712, and appointed Mechitar Abbot. Three years later war broke out between Venice and the Porte, and the new abbey was in jeopardy. The abbot, leaving seventy of his monks behind, crossed over to Venice with sixteen companions with the intention of beginning a second foundation. It was well that he did so for the Venetians were defeated and the Morea was regained by the Turks. Modon was taken, the monastery destroyed and the monks dispersed. The house rented at Venice proved too small and Mechitar exerted all his influence to obtain the gift of San Lazzaro, an island about two miles southeast of the city, not far from the Lido. His request granted, he restored the old ruined church, and a second time built a monastery for his monks. This establishment has remained undisturbed in the hands of the Mechitarists to the present day. At S. Lazzaro he devised many schemes for the regeneration of his country. An accusation brought against him at Rome—not a personal charge but one connected with the labors undertaken by the order—resulted in a better understanding with the Holy See, and the personal friendship of the pope. He lived at S. Lazzaro for thirty years, busy with his printing-press and his literary labors, and died at the age of seventy-four, on April 16, 1749. Since his death he is always spoken of by his children as the Abbas Pater, Abbai hairm (see Mechitarists).
The most important of his literary works are the following: “Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew” (1737); “Commentary on Ecclesiasticus” (Venice); “Armenian Grammar”; “Armenian Gram-mar of the Vulgar Tongue”; “Armenian Dictionary” (1744, and in two volumes, Venice, 1749-69); “Armenian Catechism”, both in the literary and vulgar tongues; “A Poem on the Blessed Virgin”; “Armenian Bible” (1734).
J. C. ALMOND