This Week in Armenian History

Death of Stepanos Agontz (January 29, 1824)

The third abbot of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice after Mekhitar of Sebastia, Stepanos Agontz was also a well-regarded scholar who played a crucial role in the survival of the Congregation during Napoleonic times.

The future abbot was born Amira Agontz in Ghergheni (Transylvania, formerly in Hungary and now in Romania) on November 20, 1740. He was sent to the monastery of St. Lazarus in Venice (1757). After six years of study at the seminary, he was ordained a celibate priest in 1763 and renamed Stepanos. Proficient in several ancient and modern languages, he taught Armenian language, rhetorical arts, geography, and theology at the seminary. He became student supervisor (1770-1780), and in 1785 he was elected adjunct to Abbot Stepanos Melkonian (1750-1799), the successor to Mekhitar of Sebastia, founder of the Mekhitarist Congregation.

He returned to Transylvania in 1790 to teach and preach in the local Armenian communities and remained there until the death of Abbot Melkonian in October 1799. He went back to St. Lazarus and was elected Abbot General by the general assembly of the congregation on November 9, 1800. On that year, the monastery had an exceptional guest in the person of Pius X, the recently elected Pope. In 1804 Agontz was bestowed the title of “Archbishop of the Province of Siunik.”

He published the 11-volume Geography of the Four Parts of the World (1802-1806), with three volumes written by a fellow monk, Ghugas Injijian (1758-1833). During his tenure, thanks to his negotiations with Napoleon I, he was able to save the properties of the monastery from Napoleon I, who had confiscated the properties of all Italian monasteries. In 1811 the French emperor gave the monastery the title of Armenian Academy.

Agontz also published a treatise on rhetoric (1775), a biography of Mekhitar of Sebastia (1810), and a four-volume overview of the stories in the Bible (1819). His name was well-known among foreign circles, and many kings and princes visited the monastery during his time. He passed away at the age of eighty-four on January 29, 1824.