Nerses is the name of three great dignitaries who have become much distinguished in the history of the Armenian Church.
1. NERSES I, THE GREAT, was a great-grandson of Gregory Photistes, the apostle of the Armenians, and was born at Vagharchabad about 310. In the year 364 he was elected bishop, and in 366, at the Council off Walarsckapat, the clergy of the country appointed him as their catholicos, or patriarch. At that time it was also decided that in future the patriarchs of Armenia should no more be consecrated by the archbishop of Caesarea, but that their own bishops should appoint and consecrate them. In his position as patriarch Nerses exhibited his great talents, especially with regard to Church discipline, his care for the poor, and other matters pertaining to his office. Twice Nerses went to Constantinople in behalf of the Armenian king Arsaces, who had revolted against the emperors Valentinian and Valens. He succeeded in appeasing the former, while the latter banished him. Theodosius the Great, Valens's successor, recalled Nerses from his banishment, and retained him a short time at Constantinople, in order to be present at the second oecumenical council in the year 381. He then returned to Armenia, where he died in 384, being poisoned by the young king, Para. His son was Sahak the Great (q.v.). See Lequien, Oriens Christianus, 1:1375.
2. NERSES KLAJETST, i.e., Klajeman (called also Nerses IV, catholicos of Armenia, and Shnorhali, i.e., "the Pleasant," because of his oratorical talents), was born between 1098 and 1100. He was the son of an Armenian prince, who destined him for the clerical order. In connection with his brother Gregory he was at first educated by the catholicos Gregory Wkajaser, i.e.μαρτυροφίλος, and afterwards by Stephanus, the abbot of the "red monastery" (Karmir Wankh), who, when Nerses was ready to enter into holy orders, consecrated him as deacon, and shortly afterwards as priest. By the unanimous desire of the clergy, Nerses accepted in 1166 the high dignity of bishop, in which position he remained until his death in 1173. When, in 1165, he accidentally met with the son-in-law of the emperor Manuel Comnenus (q.v.), he took the opportunity to address a letter to the emperor, in which he showed that there was no real dogmatical difference between the Armenian and Greek churches, and that the Armenian Church, when speaking of one nature of Christ, takes the word in the sense of person; the same also can be said of the liturgical and ritual differences in both churches. This letter gave rise to a correspondence between the two churches, which aimed at the union of both. The emperor sent the philosopher Theorianus, who held a disputation with the Armenian abbot, John Uthman, the result of which was. a mutual acknowledgment of their agreement in dogmatical as well as liturgical and ritual points. This disputation was first published by John Leunclavius (Basle, 1578), in Greek and Latin, and republished more fully by Angelo May in his Scriptorum veterum nova collectio (Romae, 1822), volume 6. Nerses, however, died before he received the consent of all the Armenian bishops to those points which the emperor, in a letter dated December, 1172, had made the basis of the union, viz., 1, to excommunicate all those who accept one nature in Christ Eutyches, Dioscurus, Severus, Timothy the hunchbacked, and the like; 2, they should acknowledge two natures in Christ, as well as two wills and two energies (ἐνέργειαι), but one person; 3, they should omit the words qui crucificus es in the Tersanctus; 4, to celebrate the Greek festivals — the annunciation of Mary, March 25; the birth of Jesus, Dec. 25; his circumcision on the 1st and his baptism on the 6th of January; his presentation in the Temple, Feb. 2; and all the festivals of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin, of John the Baptist, the holy apostles, etc.; 5, the myron should be prepared with olive-oil; 6, to use at the communion leavened bread, and wine mixed with water; 7, to allow the laity as well as the clergy, with the exception of the penitents, during divine service and communion to remain in the church; 8, to acknowledge the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh oecumenical councils; and, 9, that the catholicos should only be appointed by the Greek emperor. Nerses was a fruitful writer and a learned theologian. Of great importance for the history of the Church and doctrines are his epistles, which he wrote as bishop and catholicos with reference to theological disputes and ecclesiastical questions, and which were published' at Constantinople (1825) and Venice (1858), where also (in 1833) a Latin translation by Capelletti was published. Nerses excelled, too, as a poet, and he is said to have introduced rhyme into Armenian poetry. The Armenians regard him as their Homer. His greatest poem is Jesus the Son, a poetical epitome of the Old and New Testaments in 3825 verses; and the Word of Faith, an epitome of the four Gospels in 1502 verses. His spiritual songs are found in the hymn-books of the Armenian Church. In 1824 an edition of his poems and works was published at Venice. See Monike, in Ilgen's Zeitschriftfur hist. Theologie, 1:87 sq.; Lequien, Oriens Christianus, 1:1399; Galanus, Conciliatio, volume 1, chapter 19.
3. NERSES LAMBRONENSIS (originally Sembat), a relative of Nerses IV, and son of the duke of Lambron, was born in 1133. He was very talented, and when sixteen years old he was appointed abbot of the monastery of Skyrra, near Constantinople. When he heard of this appointment he concluded to retire into the desert. He was prevented from doing this by his mother, who took him to Hromkla, that he might be consecrated by his uncle Nerses, which the latter did, giving him at the same time his name, Nerses. Shortly afterwards he retired into the monastery on the Black Mountain, where the learned Stephanos became his teacher. Nerses's oratorical talents were soon discovered by the monks, and he was obliged to preach in the church at Lambron, which he did with such satisfaction that. although only eighteen years of age, he was offered the abbacy of the monastery of Skyrra and the bishopric of Lambron. All these honors, however, he declined, and in order to give himself entirely to his studies he went with his teacher into the desert. In the year 1176 Nerses was appointed archbishop of Tarsus and Lambron, and also abbot of the monastery of Skyrra. In the year 1179 he was delegated by the catholicos Gregory to open the synod which was to convene at Hromkla for the purpose of bringing about the union between the Armenian and Greek churches, by an acceptance of the Confession of the Council of Chalcedon (q.v.) and the doctrine of two natures. This union which was about to be consummated was, however, frustrated by the death of the emperor in 1180. In the midst of the ensuing revolts, wars, and troubles of the time, the whole matter was entirely forgotten. The hatred of the Greeks against the Armenians was again renewed, especially when the latter connected themselves with the Latin crusaders. In order to justify himself as well as his people against the Greeks, who represented them to the Latins as Eutychians (q.v.), the catholicos Gregory, in 1184, sent a delegation to pope Lucius III, who in return answered the letter by sending the insignia of the patriarchate, together with a Roman liturgy and epistle, which Nerses translated; the latter also consented to some changes which the Roman clergy had proposed, especially that the main ecclesiastical festivals should be celebrated with the other churches at one and the same time, which caused great dissatisfaction among the Oriental-Armenian clergy. Nerses died in 1192, and was buried in the monastery of Skyrra, whose abbot he was, and is commemorated in his Church on July 17. He wrote, Explanation of the Ecclesiastical Orders and Liturgy of the Mass (Venice. 1847): — Address at the Opening of the Council at Hromkla (ibid. 1784; in a Latin transl., ibid. 1812, 1838, and in a German by Neumann, Leips.
1834): — Commentaries on different Books of the Bible: — Biographies of the Fathers, especially the Anchorites, Addresses, and Homilies (Venice, 1838): — Explanation of the Nicene Symbol (Constant. 1736): — A Panegyric on Nerses Klajensis (St. Petersburg, 1782; Madras, 1810; Constant. 1826); besides translations from the Latin, Syriac, and Greek. See Lequien, Oriens Christianus, 1:1345. See also Herzog, Real- Encklopadie, 19:85 sq.; 20:210 sq.; Theologisches Universal-Lexikon, s.v.; Biography of the Saints, volume 5; Neumann, Fersuch einer Geschichte der armenischen Literatur (Leips. 1836), page 148; Tchamtchenang, Hist. of Armenia (Venice, 1783-4, 3 volumes), 3:58 sq.; Gieseler, Church History (Smith's transl.), 2:617; Kurtz, Lehrbuch d. Kirchengeschichte (Mitau, 1874), pages 190, 214; Jicher, Allgemeines Gelehrtean-Lexikon, s.v. Nierses; Cave, Historia literaria scriptorum ecclesiasticorum, page 591, 596; Malan, Life and Times of St. Gregory the Illuminator, with Introd. on the Hist. of the Armenian Church, page 35 sq.