ETCHMIADZIN, Armenia (A.W.)—On Sept. 24, the commencement ceremony of the first bishops’ Synod in 600 years was held at the Mother See of the Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia. Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I presided over the ceremony. The Synod assembled 62 archbishops and bishops (out of a total of 75) from all the dioceses of Armenia and around the world. Over four days, the attendees discussed various theological, ecclesiastical, and contemporary issues confronting the Armenian Apostolic Church.
President Serge Sarkisian attended the opening ceremony. Following the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“Hayr Mer”), the clergymen exhorted repose for the departed souls of the recently deceased archbishops Shahan Svadjian and Artvazt Trtrian, and other clergymen who had passed away. Karekin II then thanked the attendees for their participation and welcomed Sarkisian to address the attendees. Sarkisian referred to the crucial role of the Armenian Apostolic Church in its efforts to preserve Armenian culture and identity over the centuries and its ability to unite the Armenian people under one banner. The president expressed his confidence that the meeting would be productive and would contribute to the renewed vigor of the Armenian people in their efforts and struggle to achieve their national interests.
Following the president’s speech, Karekin II took the floor. He pointed out that this was the first time a Synod was taking place with the mutual efforts of the Catholicosates of the Great House of Cilicia and that of All Armenians. He stated that today Armenia is free and independent, and thus reforming the church has the potential to overcome the problems we face as a nation. His Holiness stressed the fact that despite the blossoming and awakening of our nation and church, there are many unresolved issues, caused by the absence of organizational, religious, and regulatory laws and principles. This deficiency has led to various perverted practices and rituals and has undermined the desired progress of our church life, he said.
In order to reform our church, ecclesiastical agencies and organizations are necessary, he continued, with a constitution purporting a judicial function of regulating mutual relationships and activities. Moreover, His Holiness emphasized the necessity of revitalizing ethical and moral values vis-à-vis the scientific and technological progress of the 21st century that threatens sacred Christian values. He stated that through a mutual cooperation between the Armenian Republic and the Armenian Diaspora, the Armenian nation is able to overcome the problems it is confronting, particularly in the Middle East and Syria. He concluded his speech by exhorting to the Lord for World peace, salvation, and protection for those suffering from war.
His Holiness Aram I delivered his message next. The re-organization of such a meeting was qualified by His Holiness as a historical event, since it was the first in its kind in almost 600 years. He emphasized the present ailing state of the church, and stressed that the reform issue ought to be approached and dealt with from a realistic perspective. The critical discussions of the clergymen in this meeting, he said, is an essential factor for the success of the reform plans. The notion of reforms ought to be explained in terms of revitalization, reorganization, and repair of the ecclesiastical and other institutions that may be related to the church. Citing a few methods, His Holiness said that the current assembly ought to be viewed as a collective endeavor that should include secular as well as ecclesiastical elements. He also stressed the necessity to remain loyal to historic traditions, norms, and values of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of Christianity, rendering them compatible with the requirements of the 21st century.
Aram I concluded his speech by stating that the road to success begins with the courage of self-assessment, which is the primary condition for us to see our mistakes, wounds, and shortcomings. Embarking upon the task of reforming our church is not an easy mission, since recuperating the current condition, noted the Catholicos, requires long, passionate, and continuous labor. Without this renewal, the church would be transform into a museum.
Archbishop Nourhan Manougian and other clergymen from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not attend the Synod, presumably because of tensions with Etchmiadzin.