Oriental Orthodox Church News
Edited by James Kirby Tomblin
Armenian Church requests Government to Cancel Registration of ‘Nontraditional’ Religious Groups
In January the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council of the Armenian Apostolic church, under the chairmanship of the Catholicos of all Armenians, Karekin II, sent a request to the authorities of Armenia for the cancellation of the decision to legalize the activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement in the country. The hierarchy of the church also requested restrictions on the activity of Evangelical and Pentecostal missions in the country. Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian promised to review the church’s request carefully. More than 90% of the population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic church.
Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Dialogue
Members of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches . held their second meeting in Rome between 26-29 January 2005 under the co-chairmanship of Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches were represented by the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians), the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of Cilicia), the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahido Church. These held their separate preparatory meeting on 25 January and both delegations held additional separate meetings during the dialogue. Each working day commenced and concluded with morning and evening prayers and the meetings were conducted in a very cordial atmosphere. At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (25 January) the delegates attended ecumenical vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
When members of the Commission were received in audience by Pope John Paul II on 28 January Metropolitan Bishoy conveying the greetings of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches , and the Pope responded with a brief message of welcome and encouragement. Later that day the Commission was invited to share in vespers and a meal with the Benedictine Community of Sant Anselmo.
As had been agreed upon at the first meeting of the International Joint Commission in Cairo in January 2004, the principal themes were: a) Understanding of Communion, Constitutive Elements of Communion; b) Particular and Universal Communion, Meaning of Sister Churches and of Church Families; c) Full Communion and Degrees of Communion, Common Ecumenical Goal.
During the course of the meeting papers were presented from the Catholic Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches on these themes: 1) “The Church as Communion in Early Christian Thought” (Fr. Mark Sheridan); 2) “Communion-Sister Churches-Church Families” (Archbishop Mesrob K. Krikorian); 3) “Full Communion and the Degrees of Communion, Common Ecumenical Goal” (Fr. Philippe Luisier); 4) “Full Communion and Degrees of Communion, Common Ecumenical Goal” (Metropolitan Amba Bishoy and Fr. Shenouda Maher); 5) “Particular Church/ Universal Church, Sister Churches, Ecclesial Families” (Fr. Paul Rouhana); 6) “Understanding Communion, Constitutive Elements of Communion” (Rev. Megabe Biluy Seife Selassie Yohannes and Lique Hiruyan Getachew Guadie).
Discussion in the plenary sessions on the papers allowed the participants to reach the following common affirmations:
The Church by its very nature is a communion, which finds its source and model in the communion of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This communion finds its expression in conciliarity/collegiality. The question of primacy should be further studied.
The constitutive elements of communion include:
- the Apostolic faith as lived in the Tradition and as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, the first three ecumenical councils, and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed; we believe in Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God, the same being true God and true man; we venerate the Holy Virgin Mary as Mother of God;
- the celebration of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation/ chrismation, eucharist, penance/reconciliation, ordination, matrimony, anointing of the sick); we consider baptism as essential for salvation; with regard to the Eucharist, we believe that it is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ;
- the ordained ministry in Apostolic succession.
However, from a Catholic point of view, the question of the mutual recognition of baptism must be a point of further discussion,
Thanks to the many shared elements of communion, the Catholic Church uses the phrases “real though incomplete communion” and “degrees of communion.” However, from the point of view of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, these terms require further study.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches, being in full communion with each other in faith and sacraments, refer to their unity by the term “family of Churches.” However, from the point of view of the Catholic Church, this concept requires further study, since it is not a part of its tradition.
The next meeting of the International Joint Commission will be hosted by the Catholicosate of All Armenians at Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia , from 25-31 January 2006.
Three papers from each side will be prepared on the following issues:
Bishops in Apostolic Succession;
Primacy and Synodality/Conciliarity;
Synods, local and ecumenical (their ecclesiological meaning).
Chief Rabbi visits Armenian Patriarch
Rabbi Yona Metzger, Israel ’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, paid an unprecedented official visit to the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, one of a series of meetings with Christian leaders to mend relations after a Jewish seminary student attacked an Armenian archbishop last year. “The rabbi condemned attacks against religious clerics and called for mutual respect between all faiths to be upheld in Israel and across the world.” Metzger’s office said.
A Jewish seminary student last year pushed and spat on an Armenian archbishop as he led a religious procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a site in Jerusalem commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Although he later apologized to the cleric, the student said he was offended by a crucifix the Archbishop was holding, which for some Jews has come to symbolize centuries of Christian persecution. The incident raised an outcry in Israel and officials and religious leaders warned of the need to instill greater tolerance and understanding in the country’s youth. Christian clerics said they were frequently accosted by Jewish seminary students in the Old City .
Israeli parliamentarians and Jewish officials have attended seminars teaching them rudimentary knowledge of Christianity and the various denominations in the Holy Land before a series of meetings with the Latin and Armenian Patriarchs, as well as representatives from the Greek Orthodox community.
Communiqué from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem has heard with great concern about the false allegations published by the media in Greece regarding the Holy Fire ceremony, which takes place each year on the Saturday before Easter in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to which: “the Armenians are demanding that they light the Holy Fire, and it must be noted that the issue has reached all the way to the Israeli Knesset. As it is known, this request of the Armenians is persistent, and many times, during the entrance and exit of the Greek patriarch, there have occurred serious incidents.”
The position of the Armenian Patriarchate has always been to uphold the peaceful and centuries-old traditional ceremony of the Holy Fire, in compliance with the Agreement on the Status Quo in the Holy Places, according to which: “The Bishop of the Armenian Church, who is to accompany the [Greek] Patriarch into the Sepulchre, here joins His Beatitude. The Patriarch now disrobes, and his mitre and vestments are carried by the attendant clergy to the Altar in the Orthodox Chapel. The door [of the Edicule] is then opened and the Patriarch enters the Tomb, accompanied by the Armenian Bishop.”
Unfortunately, since his accession to the throne in 2001, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ireneios I has maintained that the Greeks hold the exclusive right to light the Holy Fire from the Holy Tomb, subsequently passing it to the Armenians. Contrary to this assertion, firmans, hujjats, and other historical and legal documents all state that the Armenian Bishop and the Greek Patriarch should together light the Holy Fire from the Tomb of our Lord.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem has and will continue to reject the attempts of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem to deny the right of equal participation by the Armenian Patriarch in the lighting of the Holy Fire. (Divan of the Armenian Patriarchate, 2 March 2005 )
Patriarch dismayed at ‘loss’ of Melkonian fortune
The Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey His Beatitude Mesrob II has expressed his deep concern and dismay over the possible loss of a substantial legacy which was meant to benefit young Armenians. The money was left to the Armenian people by a wealthy compatriot and could amount to many millions of dollars.
In 1921 Karapet Melkonian, a noted benefactor of the Armenian Orthodox Church, left in his will a small fortune to the Patriarchate of Istanbul. This sizeable donation amounted to 400,000 Egyptian Pounds and at the time it was equivalent to 3,5 million US dollars.
Income from the investment of this legacy was used in 1924 by Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan to establish a school and an orphanage in the city of Nicosia , Cyprus . In moves which threaten to completely disregard the original will, the school now faces imminent closure.
In 1926 the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) acquired the Melkonian Educational Institute after it signed an agreement with Karapet Melkonian and Patriarch Zaven. The Cyprus MEI and the entire Melkonian fund was transferred to the AGBU on the understanding that the Institute would be kept open. Now, despite a court’s decision, the clear instructions of a legal agreement are being flouted and Patriarch Mesrob is incensed.
In a recent interview, Patriarch Mesrob said, “According to this [legal] agreement, the AGBU must keep the Institute open, provide it with necessary funds, pay 1,000 Egyptian pounds per annum to the Jerusalem Patriarchate, 1,500 Egyptian pounds per annum to the Istanbul Patriarchate, and open a kindergarten for Armenians living in Alexandria.”
In 2004, however, the AGBU announced its decision to close down the Melkonian Educational Institute, which is the only 12-year Armenian school within the European Union. Patriarch Mesrob said, “It is to be noted that the AGBU received everything from the Istanbul Patriarchate. They stand to make millions of dollars in profit by closing the Institute and those in the Armenian diaspora will lose out, especially the children. I cannot stand by and let this happen.”
The AGBU has announced plans to open a similar institution in Armenia but Patriarch Mesrob does not accept this is a viable alternative. He said, “What does a ‘similar institution’ mean? How can the only Armenian senior high school operating in the European Union be replaced with a new school in Armenia ?”
Patriarch Mesrob estimates that a new school in Armenia could be built for 2 to 3 million US dollars, yet, according to Cypriot Armenians, the sale of the land and buildings belonging to the Melkonian Educational Institute could earn more than 120 million US dollars. Patriarch Mesrob added, “There is also the Melkonian fund itself, which, according to experts, would comprise no less than 20 million US dollars if it has been reasonably managed. What are they going to do with this sum? Our people have a right to know.”
Karapet Melkonian was described as an ethnophile and he left his wealth to the children of his nation through the Patriarchal See of Istambul. Patriarch Mesrob’s declared intention is to maintain the Melkonian Educational Institute for the benefit of the Armenian people. He said, “What happened to the 3,5 million US dollars of the 1920s? How much money is left in the Melkonian fund today? Let [the AGBU] inform the nation.”
He explained, “The current successor of Patriarch Zaven is the guarantor of the Melkonian will. Why has the AGBU not applied to the Patriarchate to this day?” And the Patriarch has evidence to back up his claim. “I personally saw the official copy of the 1926 agreement,” he said. “It is clear that the lawful successors to Patriarch Zaven had the right to intervene in the issue.”
However, Patriarch Mesrob is not optimistic about achieving an agreement with the AGBU and avoiding judicial action. “In January, we took legal action against the AGBU in the California supreme court to withdraw the decision to close down the Melkonian Educational Institute” said the Patriarch. He refutes the accusation that he has not attempted to settle the dispute with the AGBU by way of negotiation prior to taking legal action. He said, “We already expressed willingness, two months ago, to receive an AGBU delegation in Istanbul .” The Patriarch feels that the only response to his ‘olive branch’ was a series of media assaults.
It could be some time before an agreement as to the future of the Melkonian Educational Institute is reached. In the meantime, the Armenian children and young students who have until now benefited from the generosity of the patriotic benefactor Karapet Melkonian face an uncertain future.
Patriarch’s Joy over return of Axum Stele
In April, Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, expressed delight over the return of the first part of the 4 th century granite Axum Stele. The 80 foot obelisk, one of many marking the royal tombs, was looted by Mussolini’s fascist government in 1937 and stood in Rome ’s Viale delle Terme di Caracalla in front of what was originally the Ministry of Italian Africa but is now the UN Food and Agriculture organisation. Italy is meeting the entire £4.3 million cost for repatriating the monument and two further sections followed so that it will be re-erected after the end of the rainy season in September.
In a statement, the Patriarch said the return of the Obelisk would pave a way for the return of other historical relics looted from Ethiopia . He stressed the need that all people should strive for the
return of the country’s artefacts which are existing in other parts of
the world. He thanked all parties who made unstinted effort for the return of the Obelisk.
Joint Communiqué of the Delegations of the Catholicos of All Armenians and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
With the supreme dispensation of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, a consultative meeting took place between the
delegation of the Catholicate of All Armenians and that of the
Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia, in order to further the
blossoming of the sacred mission of the Armenian Church and to
strengthen her internal unity. The delegations met on March 4 and 5,
2005, at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The purpose of the
meeting was to prepare a draft of the agenda that will deal with the
theme “The imperative of the renewal of the Armenian Church.”
The members of the Catholicate of All Armenians were:
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian (co-Chairman) Bishop Mikayel Achabahian (co-Secretary) Mr. Rafayel Babayan Mr. James Kalustian.
The members of the Catholicate of Great House of Cilicia were:
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan (co-Chairman), Bishop Nareg Alyemezian (co-Secretary), Mr. Yervant Pambougian, Mr. Arsen Tanielian Rev. Fr. Vahram Melikian prepared the minutes of the meeting.
On Friday, March 4, His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos of All
Armenians received both delegations at the Mother See of Holy
Etchmiadzin. His Holiness gave his paternal blessings to the members
of the two delegations and spoke about Catholicos Aram I’s and his
expectations. Subsequently, Archbishop Oshagan conveyed to His
Holiness the warm and cordial greetings of His Holiness Aram I
Catholicos and expressed the filial respect of those present.
The participants of the meeting began their work with the Lord’s
prayer. After thanking and glorifying God for the present gathering,
they sought inspiration from a Biblical reading (1 Corinthians 12:12 -
16), and were thereby led to the preparation of the agenda. The
latter, which consisted of nine items, included the basic areas that
touch upon the identity, life and witness of the Armenian Church.
The following is the agenda:
1. The canonical state of the Armenian Church within
ecclesiological, administrative and canonical limits;
2. The vigorous preservation of Christian and Armenian education,
evangelical mission, and spiritual and cultural values;
3. Ritual and liturgical life;
4. Preparation of clergymen and revival of monastic life;
5. Inter-denominational and inter-religious relations;
6. Positions concerning modern social and moral issues;
7. Inter-relations between Church and state, and Church and social
8. Pursuing the rights of the Armenian people;
9. Utilization of modern technological means.
Thereupon, each issue, with its sub-categories, was discussed in
depth, as a first step towards a subsequent comprehensive analysis
and adoption of respective steps.
The discussions were conducted in a warm environment of Christian love and spiritual gratification, always having as their goal the
ardent enlivenment of the multi-faceted mission of the Armenian
Church in the homeland and in the Diaspora.
At the conclusion of the meeting it was resolved to present for
consideration the draft of the agenda to His Holiness Karekin II
Catholicos of All Armenians and to His Holiness Aram I Catholicos of
the Great House of Cilicia, and filially bring to their notice the
initiative and the transactions of the committee.