JERUSALEM—For the first time in living memory, the Armenian Church in Jerusalem will have a co-adjutor patriarch whose primary mission will be to assist the incumbent guardian of the keys of St. James, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, in the administration of the affairs of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The measure, proposed by Archbishop Manoogian himself, was put forward during one of the sessions of a four-day marathon conclave held in Jerusalem this month and attended by members of the priestly Brotherhood of St. James.
Bowing to the wish of the ailing patriarch, who is in his 90’s, the 28 participants of the 19th General Assembly of the Brotherhood, who were all ordained in Jerusalem (and many of whom are serving the church overseas), adopted a resolution to consider the issue of holding elections at an opportune time.
The need for a co-adjutor has become increasingly crucial recently in view of Archbishop Manoogian’s tenuous health.
Sources close to the Patriarchate said the conclave, presided over by Archbishop Manoogian and co-chaired by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the primate of Diocese of Armenian Church of America (Eastern), discussed “issues concerning the patriarchate and its far-flung establishments in the Holy Land, particularly the churches and convents in Ramleh, Jaffa, and Bethlehem, and reaffirmed the need to maintain and preserve these holy places.”
The assembly also approved the budget for the following year. The patriarchate oversees an extensive array of institutions in addition to the Armenian holy places. These include the Gulbenkian Library, the St. Tarkmanchatz parish high school, the theological seminary, and the museum, and relies heavily on donations to meet its payroll. Its sole income is from the rent of properties it owns in West Jerusalem.
The official communique issued by the Armenian Patriarchate following the conclusion of the conclave did not divulge any details, but there have been persistent reports of encroachments upon its properties, particularly the St. Nicholas monastery in Jaffa. It said the patriarchate attorney had presented “explanations about various real estate-related issues connected with St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in New [sic] Jerusalem and clarified all the concerns that the members of the Brotherhood had.”
The status of this church “remains unchanged under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate,” it added.
Among the most important projects discussed during the conclave was a proposal to construct a hostel on land the patriarchate owns on the Mount of Olives, the site of the ascension of Jesus.
The meeting comes at a critical point in the illustrious history of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, whose origins hark back to the 4th or 5th century, shortly after Armenia became the first nation to accept Christianity as its state religion.
Ever since, the patriarchate has acted as the focal point of the vibrant Armenian presence in the Holy Land, a fount of hope and faith for the thousands of Armenian pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of Christ over the centuries. They came on camelback or aboard Boeing 777’s. Some chose to remain and build homes. They all gave back Jerusalem more than they took back: the city’s first photographic studio and printing press, among others.
Since his return to Jerusalem some 20 years ago and his election as patriarch, Archbishop Manoogian has tried hard to reinforce the Armenian entity in the Holy Land. Driven by his over-riding zeal for reform, Manoogian has set about refurbishing the dilapidated residences of the priests, renovating churches, and upgrading the educational standards of the theological seminary.
He has succeeded in his efforts at reform and reconstruction to a considerable extent, bringing a measure of much-needed stability to the Armenian compound, insisting on accountability and transparency, and imbuing the Armenian Church with his vision of a revived Jerusalem.
But this, at a heavy price to his health. Now ailing and mobile with difficulty, he has come to realize that he cannot shoulder the burdens of Jerusalem by himself. Although he has an able cadre of experienced men to help administer the affairs of the patriarchate, he has confided to me that there were still so many things he wanted to do, and so few resources, particularly in manpower, available to help him carry these out.