‘Without Renewal, Church Becomes a Museum’: Etchmiadzin Hosts First Bishop Synod in 600 Years

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.

The Synod assembled 62 archbishops and bishops.
The Synod assembled 62 archbishops and bishops.

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.


Varak Ketsemanian

Varak Ketsemanian is a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2014-2016). His master’s thesis titled “Communities in Conflict: the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party 1890-1894” examines the socio-economic role of violence in shaping inter-communal and ethnic relations by doing a local history of the Armenian Revolutionary Movement in the Ottoman Empire. Ketsemanian’s work tackles problems such as the development and polarization of mainstream historiographies, inter-communal stratifications, nationalism, and the relationship of the Ottoman State with some of its Anatolian provinces. He is currently completing a PhD at Princeton University, where his doctoral dissertation will focus on the social history of the National Constitution of Ottoman Armenians in 1863, and the communal dynamics/mechanisms that it created on imperial, communal, and provincial levels. Ketsemanian’s research relates to the development of different forms of nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, revolutionary violence, and constitutional movements.


  1. The fact that the Synod is taking place is wonderful news. Please provide more information regarding the reforms, repairs and reorganization that our clergy have in mind. Looking forward to hear more details from our religious leaders about how to enliven the church and the faithful.

  2. The most important meeting in 5 centuries for the unity and modernization of the Armenian church and the Jerusalem Patriarch is not there. In one hundred years no one will remember his beef with the Catholicos but everyone will know that he was not at the Synod and so our church leadership was not in unity. Not only a pity but very petty.

    • In one hundred years people will be reading how Armenia slowly dissolved due to its rampant corruption encouraged and practiced by the Catholicos. I would be more concerned about that then history books mentioning the Jerusalem Patriarch did not attend this Synod. What you call “petty” is actually heroic.

    • I would like to know how much control the Jerusalem Patriarch has over his own travel. I mean, if he leaves the country, who can guarantee that he will be allowed to come back? What citizenship is stated on his passport?

  3. I agree with James. Although Armenians were dispersed across the Globe due to the Genocide, modern technology gave us the gateway to diagnose the ills that are destroying the small nation. Two grand symbols of those ills are the scoundrels that disgrace our grand nation and Church. The history books will so reflect. Someone should have reminded Sargsyan and his bought and kept catholicos KII that the only reason they should attend church is to beg God and Nation for forgiveness and begin their penitence. The soul and spirit of the Church cannot be identified with such scoundrels. They are a DISGRACE!

  4. This is a big leap forward for the Armenian church. Congratulations to all who made it happen. The church is about mission to the world as well as to congregations. I expect great things from Armenian Christians in the near future. They have a lot to add to all of Christendom.

  5. We are just the current stewards of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and given to us. No matter what the shortcomings of those in authority, we must remain loyal, participate in Badarak, pray and help each other and our Priests, and hand this trust to our children.

  6. Our Church is already in the process of becoming a museum. We are losing generations of our Armenian youth to other communities because we are not able to connect to them. The spiritual needs of our youth is increasing and not declining and our church has the obligation to provide these needs. We have all the resources and the opportunities to provide this but our Church leaders need the courage to make the necessary changes. My message to our Church leaders is please get the sense of utmost urgency and act quickly before we lose many other generations. You all know all the necessary changes that need to be made and don’t bury your heads in the sand. History will not judge you favorably if you do not act.

  7. I applaud the fact that this event happened.

    I agree with Manuel’s observations. The Greek Orthodox Church has been successful in keeping their people faithful within the US. Why not the Armenians? It was proposed in the early 1900s by a bishop and turned down. Perhaps it should be reconsidered.

  8. I agree with Knar. I cannot identify, respect and accept the likes of Karekin II to be the head and representative of the church. Who is going to pray for who. Is he going to pray for us or should he ask forgiveness to where he brought the church to and may be then we should pray for him. He is a disgrace to our nation and our church. He certainly cannot be an example to look up to, be admired or lead.

  9. A question to all those who cannot separate the Armenian identity from the Armenian church: If one cannot identify, nor respect nor accept a corruption ridden church, is such a person to be considered an Armenian or not? Karekin is not the only one involved in corruption; several of his underlings are just as corrupt (if not more so) and devoid of any spirituality, except the theatrics they perform in front of their followers. Does rejecting them and the church they represent mean that one is not an Armenian? Or should an Armenian accept and respect any immoral/unethical/corrupt/criminal action on the part of the clergy because they stand for the national church? Does one cease to be an Armenian if he/she rejects such a church and joins a different group or faith (Christian or other)? Those who cannot accept others as Armenians outside of their own so-called Armenian apostolic church had better start to think a bit.

  10. What the hell is Serzhik doing with these priests? Haven’t they learned that unless you separate the state from the church, the church will die. There is a reason that religion is more alive in America than in Europe. In America you have complete separation of church and state. In Europe, you have state monopolies on “national churches.” And we all know what happens to monopolies.

    The way to save the church is not through “regulations and laws.” The way to save the church is to keep laws and regulations away from the church. Only the Armenian people, not the state, can revitalize the church, and as long as the people associate the church with the undemocratic corrupt state, they are going to stay away from the church.

    • It is quite satisfying to observe Turkbeijani agents posting under Armenian names being besides themselves with rage, impotently foaming at the mouth at the magnificent site of the President of the Republic of Armenia, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, and Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I presiding over the ceremony: United in cause; United in spirit; United in purpose.

      One Armenian Nation, Under God, Indivisible.

      The Turkbeijani nomad invaders are still smarting from the drubbing they got from Arstakhtsi warriors 20 years ago.
      Current, democratically elected President of the Republic of Armenia being one of the field commanders who participated in the magnificent drubbing of the AzeriTatarTurk nomad invaders. Impotent with rage, the nomads are reduced to calling our heroic Armenian leaders names: pathetic.

      btw: nomads; last thing we Armenians need is advice from Turkic Asiatic tribal nomads about our church and our country.
      and the last people to give advice about democracy are those in the employ of autocratic Sultan Aliyev’s corrupt, nepotistic, fascistic, hereditary gasoline station.

  11. The word Church has at least three meanings. The first is the Parish and it’s buildings. The second is the entire assemblage of temporary assets and people worldwide, including the hierarchy and the ordained and lay people. The third is the mystical immortal body founded by Christ. Let’s not give up on 3 because 2 leaves a lot to be desired. If youth are not interested in the Gospel, it’s our duty as members to interest them every bit as much as the responsibity of the leaders. Parents and spouses should bring their families to Church, not so Soccer games.

  12. I question how “the scientific and technological progress of the 21st century… [threaten] sacred Christian values”. Maybe they just expose their lack of foundation?

  13. It’s amusing watching our pseudo-patriots and the agents of Armenia’s ruling thugs pretend that the “nation” is united. Thousands of our brothers and sisters are spitting on the “united nation” and leaving the country. The rest live in bitter apathy towards the “united nation.” The only ones “united” are the ruling thugs (including Serzhik and Karekin) united against the people to maintain their own power and plunder the nation. Perfect conditions for the destruction of the so called “republic,” just like in 1920. I wonder how many of these “brave” thugs and their agents will be there when the “Asiatic” armies overrun the weakened “republic.”

    Let’s now see how our pseudo-patriot views his own people, blaming our Genocide victims for the Genocide:

    post by Avery // February 26, 2013 at 3:17 am //: “no wonder we were slaughtered like sheep by Turks. Turks glorify their military, while we glorify our spoiled brats.” http://armenianweekly.com/2013/02/23/a-story-of-defiance-activists-reject-international-observers-assessment-of-election/

    • Regarding them sheeps, alleged AG blame, and all that, buddy boy:

      {“I am very proud of grandma Gadar, because at a time when more than a million Armenians were being marched to their deaths by the genocidal rulers of Tekin’s ancestors, she and her fellow Zeitountsis — men, women and children — defended themselves valiantly and refused to be slaughtered like sheep”} (Mr. Harut Sassounian).

      “….refused to be slaughtered like sheep”
      Clear, buddy boy ?

      Next. This gem from the famous ‘Armenian’ poster.

      [….. Robert and Serzh are Azerbaijani citizens. Call me biased, but I would rather have a U.S. citizen president of Armenia than an Azeri citizen.] (Vahagn March 11, 2013 @AW)

      Well, No, pal: both were Citizens of USSR. Both are citizens of Republic of Armenia now.

      And keep hoping, homes: the Armenian patriots you call “separatists” cleaned the clock of your nomadic buddies.
      They will do it again if your nomadic kin try another uninvited tour of the Armenian lands.
      Tell your friends.

    • Avery et al, please add another gem by an ‘Armenian’ posting under the name ‘Vahagn’ to the list of his anti-Armenian utterances:

      “The Armenian nation is a voluntary organization, and anything that we do for the “cause” is a favor, not an obligation.” —Vahagn // October 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm, “Woman in Turkey Reveals Armenian Identity after 82 Years”, Armenian Weekly

      Note “cause” in quotesб among other characteristic gibberish.

    • Sasunyan never blamed the Genocide victims for the Genocide, buddy boy. Only self-hating pseudo-patriots do.

      If by “Asiatic nomads” you are referring to your family, you are correct. You are Asiatic (Armenia is in Asia), and you are a nomad, since, by your own admission (which was skillfully elicited by me) you have moved and are living off of my country, the United States.

      And next time the enemy armies overrun your crumbling “republic” to rape your women, the demoralized “patriots” may very well run away, as they did in Kars in 1920. The question is, buddy boy, will you and other pseudo-patriots have enough courage to be there to offer their sisters and wives instead.

      The only thing that can prevent Armenia’s destruction is the Armenian people, and the only way to make sure that the Armenian people want to stay in Armenia is democracy. Thus, anyone opposing democracy in Armenia harms Armenia. Clear, pal?

  14. My observance and take on above and comments therein contained is as follows-.-
    I was broguth up in an environment where the ¨Arajnort¨ of the Northern Iran(Aterpatakan) was His Holiness T.T. Nerses Archbishop Melik-Tankian.A giant of a spriitural Leader that followed in the steps of Khrimian Hairik…
    Would you believe it his almost daily food (regularly) was Tanov-Abour( a soup based on Yoghurt and rice or wheat).Only when he came to Tehran to visit (2 visits only) the shah and The Soviet Ambassdador,Sathikov, did he don his best attire.Stayed at our house(father furnished him with his chauffeur driven car9 .When returning from the visit at the soviet Embassy, our driver Levon told my father and I overheard him say:-Surpazan spoke perfect Russian with Satchikov-Father replied, my boy he staudied at the St. Petersburg´s Semionary and graduated from University there…
    When ARchbishop Karekin Hovsepiantz(later Catholicos of Great House of Cilicia ,came from NY on his way to St. Etchmiadzin to elect new Catholicos…rumor was omn that Melik Tankian ought to have been invited to Etchmiadzin…he was not because the soviets thought he was Nationalistic…
    In 3rd or 4th Tome of prof. Rcihard G. Hovhaniisian mention is made of Surpazan melik Tankian was the person who pursuaded Garegin nzhdeh to abandon his small so called republic of Lernahayastan(as agaisnt the just S.S.R.A,as latter with its red army was preparing to attack.A lot of precious Armenian (brothers) blood was thus saved…
    These were exemplary spiritural Leadrs indeed, afteer Khrimian..I have nothing to comment on present ones….
    Surpazan Melik Tankian ´s burial in tabriz was quassi like an Emperor´s. Both Armenians and Aterpatakan locals lining the streets were moruning alike, the Moslems lost their beloved Khalifa-so they said-a man that in his young days walked on the walls of Tatev Monastery .He was Vanahayr there for yrs before being ordained bishop , archbishop…May their souls rest in peace and not annoyed with what the followers are doing!!!

  15. Addendum
    Archbishop Melik Tankian been invited to St-Etchmiadzin (after WWII to elect new Catholicos-soviets used the Church to soften up relations with the Armenian Diaspora and carry on their propaganda).His eminence Ter Nerses Arhebiscopos would have been elected as Catholicos of All Armenians….
    it was not to be the cold war had just started.Rest is history.My viewpoint as to our present clergy and the Synod at St-Etchmiadzin is in favour of it of course.Especially for the first time the Great house of Cilicia´s presence in ssame…now that is one step FWD.it remains to be seen if the clergy are taught to work better in their outposts from Sydney to Sevastopol, to Paris to NY. etc., notso easy but they can make an effort to attract THE YOUNG!!!!
    I trust a new approach will be adopted to mobilize the young clergy that is being prepared both in St. Etchmiadzin and Antillias to be able to start A NEW ERA IN OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE.One more thing….it would also be impressive and productive if oiur Apostolic church began to cooperate with our Catholic and Presbyterian (protestant) denominations .For latter are also well educated and predpared to cope with the YOUNG.

  16. Ouch, buddy boy: looks like I touched a nerve there. You have lost all composure: “your family”, “rape your women”.
    My, my, my: sonny throwing a tantrum, and inadvertently revealing – again – his nomadic Turkbeijani ancestry.

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

    And obviously you are a little confused about the difference between a nomad and an immigrant.
    Nomad invaders: illegal, uninvited. Bad.
    Immigrants: legal, invited. Good.

    And the subtle, but crucial distinction between ‘Asiatic nomad’ and Armenia’s geographic placement on Asia Minor is clearly lost on you: I am leaving that as homework for my student. There will be a Test at the end of semester, of course.

    United States is _your_ country ? Pretty funny, homes.
    You arrived at that conclusion using the same mysterious logic that you used to convince yourself that “……we were slaughtered like sheep” and “……refused to be slaughtered like sheep” have different meanings ?

    Or the same logic you used to come up with this flight of illogical fancy: {“ The Armenian nation is a voluntary organization, and anything that we do for the “cause” is a favor, not an obligation.”} (Vahagn // October 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm //)

    Getting really desperate, Buddy boy.

    • Here is some more education for you, buddy boy. Yes, “we were slaughtered like sheep” and “refused to be slaughtered like sheep” do have different meanings. The first affirmatively states that the Genocide victims acted like sheep. The second states (by virtue of the word “refuse”) that they did not. And it does not affirmatively state that the rest acted like sheep. You may infer such a meaning if you are a self-hater, but other Armenians with healthy sense of identity will not. Get it, kiddo?

      Here is another piece of education. Nomad has nothing to do with being uninvited. It means people who do not settle down. Sure, I do not call other immigrants nomads because they are not stupid enough to call others nomads. But when you rely on ridiculous arguments like “they are nomads and we are not,” you need to be reminded that you and your ilk are nomads to a greater degree than the Azeris. Armenians change their countries of residence every 20-30 years. And the Azeris do not leave their country to the same extent than the Armenians do. If you do not want to hear that, use real arguments instead of bs ones such as “they are nomads.’

      It’s amusing reading you saying that others are losing composure, when your posts are filled with raving hysteria. I am just delivering to you the truth in the form of well-deserved slaps, all for the purpose of education.

  17. “We have two Catholicoi, and we are rich — this is an expression of the richness of the church.” This revelation came from Catholicos Aram I in an interview to NY Times given at the Synod.

    I’d say we are not THAT rich. I would rather have a naval base. Next time he comes to your town begging for money to support his “seat”, remind him of his words;)

  18. From a newspaper’s writer point of view: Where is the summary of the agenda of the meeting. I know Armenian meetings quite often don’t have a written agenda…but from a newspaperman’s point of view…where is the agenda? Most of us could learn a lot more about how the current leadership thinks if we saw a written agenda…ie
    what were they planning to discuss and how much time were they scheduling for each discussion
    Point two: Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked(both spiritually and physically). The day our Catholicose shows up in the United States and does not demand a suite at the most expensive hotel in town and the day he does not demand a specific type of Limo to be driven around in …that will be the day the rest of us who still believe in the mission of the Church will believe our temporal leadership have gotten the message that our founding Father (Jesus)
    gave in his “mission statement”. So far…the boys in Echmiasin have missed the message written into the name of their city (Echave Mia az zeen….”descended among us”(ie here).
    3) How many Armenians have to report “oh I saw the Catholics in Swizerland buying furniture”…”Oh I met the Catholics’ son in Yeravan” “Oh when the current Catholicos was elected the goons from the president of Armenia were offering bribes to those present to vote for him”…etc….at what point do all of these urban legands need to addressed…are they true…and if they are or are not…are not the reporters for this newspaper chartered to address these stories in the pages of this newspaper. Prove or disprove these stories for the Armenian public

  19. I like to know exactly why Jerusalem Patriarchate was not represented at the bishop’s synod. Why wasn’t any mention made in regards to this important issue.
    Jerusalem patriarchate is one of the four thrones of the Armenian Apostolic Church and must be included in all important decision makings.

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