Magazine article The Christian Century

Armenian Patriarch Bridges Church Division

Magazine article The Christian Century

Armenian Patriarch Bridges Church Division

Article excerpt

Armenian Christians in America, divided into two church jurisdictions for more than 60 years by cold-war politics, are on the road to reunion under a charismatic new spiritual leader. Karekin I, elected in Armenia last April as the catholicos, or worldwide head of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, is making old barriers crumble on his first visit to the U.S. in his new role. Kerikin met January 16 with President Clinton to thank him for supporting Armenia's independence from the former Soviet Union.

"No one is allowed to speak of two churches," the 63-year-old blackrobed monk, scholar and teacher has been telling receptive audiences throughout the nation. Members and priests affiliated with the two factions have attended all of Karekin's appearances since his arrival in New York January 10 for a seven-week visit to the U.S. and Canada.

Karekin's message is that the cold war is over, Armenia is now an independent republic freed of Soviet domination, and it's time to look forward to a future in which Armenians are united as one people and one church. "We are no longer of that generation that lived by the memory of the past," Karekin told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 people who turned out in Worcester, Massachusetts, January 17 at the Church of Our Saviour. The church, established in 1891, is the oldest Armenian congregation in the country. Karekin, who was born in Syria and baptized Neshan Sarkissianas, served as primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America from 1974 to 1977.

Administration of the Armenian church in America has been divided since 1933, when a split developed over the status of the church in Soviet Armenia. The Armenian Apostolic Church, fearing communist infiltration, chose to ally itself with the Catholicate of Cilicia in Lebanon rather than with the Patriarchate in Armenia. The Armenian Church of America, the church's original U.S. diocese, founded in 1892, remained loyal to the Patriarchate. A "unity commission" is working to bring together the two jurisdictions, both of which are based in New York.

Remarked Christopher Zakian, public relations director for the Armenian Church of America: "A lot of the division goes back to my great-grandfather's and grandfather's time. …

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