Western Prelacy Delegation Participates in Catholicosate of Cilicia General Assembly

Under the presidency of His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the General Assembly of the Catholicosate of Cilicia convened in Antelias, Lebanon with the participation of around 130 clergy, lay delegates, and invited guests representing the Prelacies of the Holy See of Cilicia across the world. Over four days, the Assembly, which gathers every four years, conducted an in-depth examination and evaluation of the activities of the Catholicosate, discussed concerns and challenges of its churches and people, and established directives for Prelacies to enact in the coming years. The meeting concluded on December 8. A delegation from the Western Prelacy, headed by H.E. Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate, participated in the Assembly.

OPENING SESSION AND PRESENTATION OF REPORTS
The main agenda item of the first session was the address of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I. His Holiness urged delegates to focus on ways to strengthen and grow the Armenian Church as a place where one can carry out its faithful Godly mission and serve the Armenian nation and its people. His Holiness stressed that the church has to go beyond its walls, think in different, and work in new ways to strengthen its mission, and highlighted five areas of priority concern that require careful attention and continued development; spiritual and moral values, religious upbringing and service, youth participation in the daily life of the church, the Armenian Cause, and the Diaspora.

Our Pontiff stated that by strengthening the spiritual and moral values of our people, incorporating the beliefs and rituals of Christian life in our daily lives become promising. Speaking about the youth, His Holiness stressed that youth involvement in the Armenian Church is important because the wellbeing, priority, and future of the Armenian Church is dependent on our agenda to include and encourage youth to be active participants. He underlined that we have to truly listen to them, understand their expectations and needs, expand our ways of thinking and working, and be inclusive of their thoughts and suggestions. One of the important agenda items of the Armenian Church is the continued representation of the demands and rights of the Armenian people and nation. Two years ago, the Armenian nation marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the same year the Holy See of Cilicia took bold action and filed a lawsuit demanding the return of its seat in Sis. This unprecedented action garnered world attention. Despite careful work and attention on this matter, the case finds itself at a difficult political crossroads. However, regardless of the difficulties, the Armenian Church continues its efforts for the demands of the rights of the Armenian people. Finally, His Holiness stated that strengthening the development of the growing Diaspora is imperative. Last July, the Catholicosate convened a special meeting to review the concerns and needs of the Diaspora and Armenian Identity and opened the channels for renewed engagement in Armenian life.

In conclusion, His Holiness made special note that 2018 will make the 100th anniversary of the First Republic of Armenia, which the Holy See of Cilicia will commemorate by convening a conference in Antelias, Lebanon scheduled for March of 2018.

The Assembly continued its first day of business by reviewing and responding to the Religious and Lay Councils reports. Video presentations documenting the work of both Religious and Lay councils were presented, followed by examination and questions and answer sessions.

The report of the Religious Council focused on the Ecumenical mission and the development of inter-church and inter-religious work. Delegates were also provided with a brief report on the Seminary of Bikfaya. The Seminary is vital to the growth of our church and it is here that students are shaped to serve the Armenian Church and people not only through religious and spiritual means, but to serve the Armenian community in various capacities. It was stressed that all Prelacies must support the Seminary in various capacities and establish a relationship with the seminary for its growth and longevity. The report also highlighted youth religious activities carried out by its Youth Department, Armenian Church Students’ Association and the Armenian Students’ Alumni, as well as other Departments.

The report of the Lay council highlighted the numerous programs and activities of the Catholicosate. During the last two years, His Holiness Aram I traveled around the globe visiting the Prelacies of the Holy See of Cilicia, and visiting with the faithful. On the occasion of His Holiness Aram I ascension to the seat of Catholicos, the communities celebrated the momentous occasion with various events. The Catholicosate continues to strengthen and build its relationship with the Republic of Armenia, Artsakh and the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Finally, the assembly focused on the current situation in Syria.

H.E. Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian, Prelate of Aleppo, discussed in-depth the struggles that our brothers and sisters in Syria have faced, and the priorities to facilitate rebuilding our communities.

In his response to both reports, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I stressed the immediate attention to certain matters including the rebuilding of Syrian communities, protecting and practicing our Western Armenian language, and our church’s presence in today’s society. Our church needs to address certain topics and areas more closely and establish response to those challenges. The Assembly continued with follow-up discussions.

DAY TWO
Wednesday’s session consisted of panel discussions on Christian Education, Armenian instruction, youth engagement, and the pursuit of the Armenian Cause. The Assembly welcomed voices of experts and guests that addressed the issues and challenges facing each subject, allowing the Assembly to offer its thoughts and suggestions.

Panelists for the Christian Education session were Janine Tanielian (Lebanon), Archpriest Fr. Datev Mikayelian (Syria), and Deaconess Ani Christine Manuelian (Tehran).

The session discussed the importance of manifesting and practicing beliefs and values of our church rather than be only knowledgeable in them. It is not enough to send our children to Sunday Schools where they are simply taught information; it is when they are living out those morals and values within their families that they will truly be educated and spiritually fulfilled.

His Holiness reminded the Assembly that the Human Rights Convention was established based on Christian morals and values. It is with that notion that we make Christian education less about presenting facts and more about educating how to live out those values in our daily lives, His Holiness stated.

Next, panelists provided their viewpoints on the current state of Armenian education within our Prelacies. They were; Mher Karakashian (Canada), Vartan Tashjian (Cyprus), Anahid Hagopian (Adrbadagan), and George Arabatlian (Kuwait).

The session stated that there needs to be strong emphasis on strengthening and developing how we educate our youth; not only teaching them our Western Armenian language, but also rooting them in Armenian culture and traditions by encouraging their everyday practice. The successful result of this is the responsibility of the families, schools, and communities.

Despite the large population of Armenian children in our Diaspora, we do not have as many Armenian day schools to accommodate these growing numbers. However, despite that, the majority of those students do not attend Armenian schools. We need to turn to other teaching methods, including the use of technology, as a new means to teach all areas of Armenian life. We also need to rely more on professional educators to maintain the integrity of our language, was stated in the session.

It was noted that it is often difficult to practice our Armenian life in foreign countries, such as the Middle East. That said, we are witnessing our youth assimilate and distancing themselves from their Armenian culture and need to refocus their attention on preserving their Armenian identity.

Regarding this, His Holiness encouraged the self-evaluation and self-criticism of our institutions in order to determine how we approach Armenian education and implement successful programs. As we find ourselves living in a cyber world, we need to be less of an institutional center and more of functional center and use new tools, new ways, to teach and practice, he said.

The panelists for the discussion on youth engagement were Very Rev. Fr. Nshan Lakhoian (Lebanon), Ani Najarian (UAE), Aris Tavitian (New Julfa), Tamar Kanarian (Boston), and Carnie Armenian (Los Angeles).

It is known, and acknowledged, that our youth need to have a more active role in the growth, security, and longevity of our church. However, their participation is lacking as a result of a variety of challenges our Prelacies are facing: assimilation, lack of knowledge, lack of motivation, distance to activities, demands of work and school, and language.      

His Holiness professed that we need to take the church to the people, and we have to make this a priority for our youth. The two representatives from the United States recalled the May 2015 visit of His Holiness Aram I to the annual AYF Eastern Region Seminar, where more than 300 youth from the ages of 10-26 were gathered for an education and social weekend.  His Holiness’ presence was immense and inspiring. His dialogue with the attendees, addressing their questions and concerns, was precisely what they needed. We need to encourage and establish this type of relationship between our clergy and lay leadership with our youth. This will help our youth feel more welcomed in our church- physically and spiritually- and be more willing to help carry out our church’s mission.       

The core to solving the youth issue is very simple. First, they need to be listened to and their needs, interests, and how they want to be involved in our church needs to determined. Second, older generations need to be more open to establishing dialogue with the youth. They should not only share with them their experiences with how our churches operate, but be open to our youth’s thoughts, suggestions, and more modern ways of working. Finally, we need to exercise the existing outlets where our youth are already engaged, such as social media and other community organizations, where they are maintaining their Armenian identity.         

In his remarks, His Holiness stressed that we cannot leave our youth in the periphery of our church and their concerns and challenges need to be a top priority.  We need to be more action-oriented and captivating and think outside the four walls of our church. His Holiness put forth a motion to the Executive Council that the Catholicosate work to create a joint effort between the Youth and Audio Visual Department to establish and have the youth carry out the work to fulfill a formalized network for youth engagement and collaboration across the world.

The final discussion was dedicated to the pursuit of the Armenian Cause, which was presented by Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian (Lebanon), Seta Khedeshian (Lebanon), and Dr. Payam Akhavan (Canada). Throughout history, the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia has played a major role in pursuit of the Armenian Cause. A turning point for this mission is the lawsuit filed by the Catholicosate for the return of its historical Seat in Sis. The National General Assembly dedicated one session to give details on the cause and present the course of actions to be taken in the near future.         

The panelists presented the activities that the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia carried out regarding paying respect and tribute to the victims fallen during the Armenian Genocide and the development that took the Armenian Genocide from recognition to reparation. Ms. Khedeshian listed the events that gained international and political attention such as renovation and reconstruction of Armenian genocide monuments in Antelias and Bikfaya, construction of “Aram Bezikian” Museum dedicated to the orphans of the Armenian Genocide, as well as conferences and public events. Drs. Nora Nayrakdarian and Payam Akhavan gave detailed accounts of the course of the lawsuit. They shed light on the historical background, the current situation, and future steps. They explained that the Turkish Constitutional Court has rejected to consider the case, hence the legal team, with a 900 page case, has raised the issue to the International Court of Human Rights. Currently, due to political motives, the case is frozen. However, the legal team will continue its pursuit, since all documents prove that the Catholicosate is the rightful owner of the Seat.        

Addressing the Assembly, His Holiness Aram I stated that the lawsuit does not ‘belong’ to the church, but it is a national cause. The Pontiff recalled previous Catholicoi and said that their spirit is present in this cause. Nothing would stop the Catholicosate from pursuing this lawsuit, reminding the Assembly that the aim is the return of the Seat and not compensation. The Assembly also watched a video presenting the cause in detail.

Participants also had the opportunity to visit the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum in Jbeil.

DAY THREE
Thursday morning’s session focused on Diaspora affairs, including reorganization, strengthening of national identity, and collaboration with Armenia. The panelists were Hagop Pakradouni (Lebanon), Mihran Keurdoghlian (Greece), and Daron Der Khachadourian (Los Angeles).

Mr. Pakradouni raised the question of “what is Armenian Diaspora” and “who is considered Armenian” under 21st century’s political and economic circumstances. He talked about the multilayered and multicultural identities of the Diaspora and mentioned some fields where organized efforts could lead to gather Armenians under one umbrella. Mr. Kurdoghlian stated that the conventional and traditional methods of organizing the Armenian Diaspora have deemed unsuccessful; hence reorganizing the Armenian Diaspora needs reassessing our strategies. He mentioned that the Armenian Diaspora would not be terminated as long as our energy is directed in utilizing the technology and our manpower in a well-planned manner. Mr. Der Khachadourian stressed the importance of Armenia-Diaspora cooperation and its role in empowering the Armenian Diaspora. He shed light on challenges that make reorganizing the Diaspora difficult, such as emigration, constant migrations, disbelieving in the agency of the Armenian Diaspora, and also offered some suggestions on these issues.       

His Holiness underlined the importance of the working realistically, believing in our efforts, and in accepting the dynamics of the Armenian identities. He stated that the Catholicosate held a conference in Bikfaya months ago to discuss the issues of Armenian identities and reach to conclusions that would aid assessing the previous work styles and think about new ways in organizing the Armenian Diaspora.

Afterward, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, accompanied by Prelates, paid a visit to the President of Lebanon H.E. General Michel Aoun. Both at the morning session of the General Assembly and during his visit to the President, His Holiness rejected the U.S. recognition of occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to His Holiness, such a move may have negative repercussions in a volatile region of the Middle East and may jeopardize the peace process. His Holiness also emphasized the need to respect the legitimate rights of Palestinians and to preserve the rights of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem.

In the evening, Assembly participants were hosted to a dinner by the Prelacy of Lebanon, which was held at the new United Armenian College. Following a video presentation on the endeavors of the new school, Executive Council Chair Hagop Havatian highlighted the school’s value as a state-of-the-art learning center and national institution, and stressed the importance of keeping youth engagement a priority.

H.G. Bishop Shahe Panossian, Prelate of Lebanon, stated, “we succeeded not only in constructing this school, but furthermore, despite the unstable political, social, and economic situation around us, we are witnessing it thrive.” We built this school out of a sacred duty to safeguard our national identity, said the Prelate, and wished for all of our national and educational institutions worldwide to thrive with the people’s service.

The closing message was delivered by His Holiness. “Wherever our people went, before even building their own homes, they built God’s Home, and alongside God’s Home, they built the Home of Mesrob Mashdots, the Armenian School. The construction of churches and schools adjacent to one another is not a coincidence; it has deep national, spiritual, and cultural meaning. Our churches and schools are inextricably tied, they are one entity,” stressed His Holiness. A robust school denotes a robust community, continued the Pontiff, and on the occasion of the new United Armenian College commended Bishop Panossian, the Executive Council, and all affiliated bodies. On this occasion, His Holiness awarded the Holy See of Cilicia’s “Prince of Cilicia” medal to the school’s first benefactor, Mr. Hrair Sarkissian.

DAY FOUR
On the last day, participants heard the reports of the resolutions and financial committees as well as proposals and suggestions from Prelacies, and elected the new Religious and Lay Councils.

In the closing remarks, His Holiness addressed the Assembly to state that the newly elected councils will perform in utmost commitment to their obligations. The issues raised in the Assembly will serve to have more target-oriented efforts and programs. He reminded the Assembly that the projects that these newly elected councils will work on are not limited to the Armenian Church, but are for the Armenian people around the globe, for this Catholicosate-Prelacies relationship should be renewed to become more involved. His Holiness reminded the importance of our continuous support to the Syrian Armenians, which are going to continue through planned programs. As for Armenia-Diaspora cooperation, His Holiness stressed that the Armenian Diaspora should be actively involved in the Republic of Armenia and be present on decision making stances.

His Holiness concluded his remarks by stating that the councils will continue the mission with renewed hope and vision, which underlines empowerment of our motherland, church, and the people everywhere. For this he invited every single Armenian to be involved in this process.

Below we present the new Councils:

RELIGIOUS COUNCIL
Archbishop Gomidas Ohanian
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan
Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian
Archbishop. Sebouh Sarkissian
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian
Archbishop Kegham Khacherian
Archbishop Nareg Alemezian
Archbishop Khoren Doghramadjian
Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian
Archbishop Papken Charian
Bishop Shahe Panossian
Bishop Meghrig Parikian
Bishop Krikor Chiftjian
Very Rev. Fr. Vaghinag Meloian
Very Rev. Fr. Mesrob Sarkissian
Very Rev. Fr. Boghos Tinkjian
Very Rev. Fr. Bedros Manuelian

LAY COUNCIL
Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian-Kabakian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mrs. Seta Margossian-Khedeshian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Dikran Jinbashian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Stepan Der Bedrossian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Vrej Sabounjian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Hagop Yapoujian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Arthur Nazarian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Avedis Guidanian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Hagop Kelbashian (Beirut, Lebanon)
Mr. Hratch Hagopian (Aleppo, Syria)
Mr. Armen Derian (Athens, Greece)
Mr. Tovmas Tovmassian (Tehran, Iran)
Mr. Vahe Yacoubian (Los Angeles, USA)
Mr. Gaidzag Zetlian (Los Angeles, USA)
Dr. Dertad Manguigian (Washington D.C., USA)
Dr. Jirayr Basmajian (Montreal, Canada)
Mr. Krikor Mahserejian (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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