The funeral of His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Istanbul

The following account was written by Father John Whooley, one of Patriarch Mesrob’s former teachers, who attended the funeral.

The death of Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan at the age of 62 occurred on Friday, 8 March. His demise at Istanbul’s Armenian Hospital of Sourp Pirgich finally brought to a close almost ten years of an illness, the cause of which is still a matter of debate among members of his community. The last few years of that illness had witnessed a complete breakdown of any recognition by him either of his surroundings or even of those who had been closest to him. His mother, who attended him almost constantly, was the foremost observer to suffer the consequences of this development. Her son, from an individual who had shown such exceptional qualities of leadership, even before his election as patriarch in 1998, and especially so with young people, to one who was then deprived of any awareness of who he was or where he was, this was indeed a tragic development, for himself, for her, and for his community. As recovery became even more remote, his death could be seen as a release.

Patriarch Mesrob, wearing his robes and mitre, was placed in an open coffin within his patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God in Kumkapi. There the faithful were able to pay their respects on the afternoons of Thursday and Friday following his death. At each corner of the bier and facing inwards were priests in copes who recited prayers for the departed. It was to be on Sunday, 17 March, that the final Liturgy was to be celebrated, to be followed by burial in the Armenian Apostolic cemetery in Shishli.

Offices of the Dead began on the morning of the appointed day at 7.30, leading to the central celebration, the Badarak, at 10 o’clock, at which time most of the higher prelates and clergy were seen to arrive. A notable presence was that of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Nourhan Manougian. The main celebrant was one of the three representatives of the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, Karekin II, the other two being Archbishop Sebouh Chouljian and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. Two archbishops represented the Catholicosate of Cilicia, including Archbishop Nareg Alemezian. Archbishop Aram Ateshian and Bishop Sahag Marshalyan, both of the Patriarchate of Istanbul, were also present, along with virtually all the local Armenian Apostolic clergy.

Two clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate were present as well as Archbishop Yusef Chetin, who represented the Syrian Orthodox community. The Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Istanbul, Levon Zekiyan, represented the Armenian Catholics of the city, while the Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul, Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, represented the Latin Catholics. Also present were the leaders of the Syrian and Chaldean Catholic communities. The Papal Nuncio to Ankara sent a representative, whilst the French Dominican, Hyacinthe Destivelle, represented the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Also from Rome, was a member of the Community of Sant ’Egidio, Mgr. Marcvo Gnavi. In the same quarter of the Chancel was to be found the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Ishak Haleva.

In the left area of the Chancel, in the vicinity of the patriarchal throne, itself draped in black, were seated various Turkish local political figures, along with lay leaders of the Armenian community.

The singing of the Gospel concluded, various addresses were given in Armenian and in Turkish, concerning the achievements of Patriarch Mesrob, with special mention of his ecumenical interests.

One of the most moving episodes, after the coffin was transported up onto the very sanctuary itself, was the anointing of the former 84th Patriarch of the city by all the participating prelates, this ceremony being led by Patriarch Manougian. The full ensemble of the Armenian clergy, including the various grades of altar assistants, then paid their respects.

At the conclusion of the Liturgy, the Patriarch was borne out of his Cathedral, with pauses for prayers and intercessions. He was then placed in front of the Patriarchate itself, within its gates. A large crowd listened to messages of appreciation read from the steps of the building, including one from Pope Francis. Further prayers were offered, after which the move to the Shishli cemetery began, where further numbers of the faithful were already in attendance. Without delay, the patriarch was carried to that portion of the grounds where his predecessors were buried, his own grave being next to that of Karekin II Kazanjian. A crush ensued around the place of burial as further prayers were offered for the repose of the departed; crowd pleasure increased when soil was distributed to be added to that already covering the patriarch’s remains.

Most fortunately, throughout these days of farewell to such a gifted leader, lost too soon through debilitating illness, the weather proved itself at its most accommodating, with clear skies and warm sunshine, reflecting earlier and happier times in the life of Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul.

May he rest in the peace of Christ !