Ecumenical Trends in the Armenian Church
by Catholicos Aram I In this century, which is drawing near to its end, the word ecumenism has acquired a dominant use in our contemporary vocabulary. It has added a new item to the already crowded list of so many isms that the world is beginning to become weary of. It even trnnscends its Christian and religious delineation to reach aspects of human secular life when people speak about relationships between communities, organizations and different forms of social groupings.
We all know that the word itself in its original Christian use and acceptation refers to the manifestation, the desire, the thought of and the search for Christian unity. For, the gist of what we mean by the word ecumenical comes from our Lord Jesus Christ who in His Incarnate Person, in His spoken words and deeds united us, people of different colours, languages, sexes, ethnicities, social life-settings and class distinctions. Therefore, ecumenism is an intrinsic part of the Gospel and of the Church. The Councils which were recognized as Ecumenical were the expression of the entirety in unity of the Church. The new emphasis that it acquired in the 20th century Christian life, theology, and vocabulary was due to the legitimate and zealous concern for the wide-spread and multi-faceted divisions that the Church of Christ had undergone in the course of the past centuries.
The word ecumenical today has acquired a wider sense that covers the whole range on inter-associations, relationships, common prayers, theological discussions and practical cooperation among the Christian Churches.
Having made these brief observations in terms of an introductory note, now I come to the central theme of my presentation today. I will try to only indicate, without the possibility of analytic elaboration, some trends of ecumenical nature in the long and varied history of the Armenian Church, and to make special reference to the relations between the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and German theological faculties, universities and Churches, that constituted an important page in the realm of ecumenical relations towards the end of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th.
The Armenian Church, from its very origins in the early centuries of Christian history conceived itself and grew in stature as integral and unseparable part of the body of Christ. Those who are familiar with the early stages and times of normative formation of the Armenian Church, are well acquainted with the fact that Christianity was spread in Armenia, and the Church was constituted by being in close association with the Christian Churches in the neighbouring countries, particularly with the Syriac, Greek, Georgian and Persian churches. Centers of Christian life, thought and missionary expansion such as Caeseria in Cappadocia, Antioch, Nisibis, Edessa, Melitene, Alexandria, and later Constantinople (Byzantium), were closely related to and made an impact on the formation process of the Armenian Church tradition up to the end of the 5th century, the Golden Age of Armenian history, particularly in its religious, theological, and cultural aspects.
That trend of openness and readiness for communication continued even after the beginning of 6th century when the Armenian Church decided not to adhere to the Council of Chalcedon where the Tome of Leo was adopted as basic document of christological dogma, together with the formulation known as Chalcedonian Definition. After this first shock of division in the Christian Church which began at the Council of Chalcedon and was deepened in the whole course of the 5th and 6th centuries, the Armenian Church’s life and witness were not carried on in isolation from the rest of Eastern Christendom. Even in times of bitter controversies and confrontations, the relations were pursued particularly with the Greek Church, the Byzantine Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the Syriac Church tradition and with the Georgian Church, Later, after the Crusaders’ movement, the relationship included also the Latin Church under the authority of the pope of Rome. Surely, in Armenia there were certain geographical areas and segments of Armenian population where Greek Orthodox (Chalcedonian) influence was exercised, sometimes even forced, by the Byzantine emperors. There were also various theological trends in Syriac Christianity, namely the Severian (Severus of Antioch – moderate monophysitism) and Julianist (Julian of Halicarnassus – Aphthartodocetic) christological schools which found echoes in different parts of Armenia1. Yet, the Armenian Church as such maintained its anti-Chalcedonian orientation unaltered and its independence and integrity unshaken.
1 See Erwant. Ter-Minassiantz, “Die armcnische Kirche in ihren Beziehungen zu den syrischen Kirchen bis zum ende des 13. Jahrhunders” in the series Texte und Untersuchungen vol. XXVI, Leipzig, 1904.
To give only a few illustrations of this constant inter-ecclesiastical, ecumenical trend in Armenian theological tradition I would like to nsention:
a) The formation, in the beginning of the 7th century, of the “Seal of Faith” (“Gnik Havatoy”) a florilegium of patristic texts in which there are almost fifty Church Fathers both of the universal and of the Armenian churches from whom quotations have been collected and collated in support of the Armenian Orthodox position as opposed to the Chalcedonian christological stand. The German educated great Armenian scholar Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian, the discoverer and editor of the manuscript, has pointed out the theological richness of this florilegium and its significance in the ecumenical dialogue with other churches. In a long and detailed scholarly introduction (110pp.), he says: “The ‘Seal of Faith’ florilegium is a monument for the dogmatic position of the Armenian Church which has reached its ultimate degree of development in the beginning of the 7th century, afterwards having been maintained and reconfirmed after long struggles and waverings, in the beginning of 8th century (“The Seal of Faith”, Introduction, p .CVII, Etchmiadzin 1914). The volume clearly shows and eloquently bears witness to the continuing ecumenical trend in Armenian theology2.
2 For the patristic, theological and ecumenical importance of this florilegium of “the Seal of Faith”, see J. Lebon: “Les Citations patristiques grecques du ‘Seeau de la Foi” in Revue d’Histoire Ecclesiastique, t. 25 (1929) p.5-32, Louvain, Belgium.
b) The very rich theological heritage of St. Stephen of Siunik, (Stepanos Siunetsi, 8th century) particularly with his translations and commentaries of the works known under the name of pseudo- Dionysius. Thus the corpus of the post 5th century writings ascribed to Dionysiuos the Areopagite (See Acts 17:34) and including such works as “The Divine Names” “Mystical Theology”, “The Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy” indeed made an impact in the post-chalcedonian theological debates particularly by often being used with equal recognition of authority by both the so called “dyophysites” and “monphysites”.3
3 See Robert W. Thomson, The Armenian Version of the Works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite (C.S.C.O. 488, 489. Scriptores Armeniaci 17, 18, Louvain, 1987.
c) The relations with the Syrian Church went on uninterruptedly all along the subsequent centuries, It is a well known historical fact that the two Churches often faced similar challenges and went through similar internal conflicts. The reconciliatory role of mutual understanding played by Catholicos John of Odzoun (Hovhannes Otsnestzi) in the 8th century, with the famous Council of Manzikert was indeed a highly important landmark in the history of the ecumenical relationship between the two Churches.
Later, in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Armenian Church entered into a most intense and decisive period of relationship with the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church also joined the discussions as partners with the Armenians as they shared the same chirstological position. Indeed, these 12th and 13th centuries were times of close association between the two Churches not only on doctrinal grounds, but also and more particularly on the level of cultural exchanges of great importance involving great figures of the Syriac Orthodox Church such as Michael the Syrian, known often as Michael the Great, (1166-1199) Gregory Bar Hebraeus and, from the Armenian Church, Catholicos Nerses Bahlavouni known as Nereses the Gracious (1166-1173) and Krikor Tegha (1173-1193).
Mr. Levon Ter-Petrossian, the highly qualified Armenian scholar on Syriac language, history, culture and church relations has a most revealing study under the title of “the Role of the Syrians in the culture of Cilician Armenia in the 12th and 13th centuries” (Venice, 1989). In his condensed conclusion in French he says: “Dans l’histoire des relations arméno-syriennes, les XIIe XIIIe ss. se caractérisent comme une période de contacts immédiats et d’étroite coopération des deux peuples. Cela est dû tout d’abord à la situation géographique de la Royauté Arménienne de Cilicie et à la cohabitation des populations arménienne et syrienne aussi bien en Cilicie que dans les provinces limitrophes. Les longs contacts religieux et officiels, ainsi que les relations quotidiennes entre les Arméniens et les Syriens ont laissé leur trace dans la vie culturelle de l’époque”. (p. 86), see also pp.16-17 (armenian text).
d) The most significant and impact making course of events took place in the second part of the 12th century with the in-depth theological conversations and correspondence between the Armenian and Byzantine Churches. It began in the year of 1165 when one of the most talented and erudite theologians of the Armenian Church had a serious, expository conversation with Duke Alexy, the representative of the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus (1143-1180). His exposition was so lucid and sounded so convincing that the prince was surprised by realizing that what the Church and State authorities. theologians and simple people of the Byzantine empire thought of the Armenian Church’s christological position was far from being identical to what Bishop Nerses the Gracious had presented with such accuracy and plain lucidity. He wanted to have in writing what St. Nerses had spoken in oral. His wish was done. (See the text in – “Pontifical Letter” pp.87-107).
In Byzantium, both the Emperor Manuel Comnenus and the Patriarch Michael were deeply impressed by the clarity and soundness of the doctrinal exposé of Armenian christology as formulated by St. Nerses the Gracious. A whole course of correspondence between the two Churches followed in the period stretching between 1165 and 1179 when three Catholicoses were successively involved in the discussion process, namely, Gregory III Bahlavouni, (1113-1166), Nerses the Gracious (1166-1173) and Krikor Tegha (1173-1193), all three sharing the same spirit and attitude of theological thought and of genuine ecumenical openness.
The basic ground in which tacit consensus had been reached at was that the Armenians speaking about “one nature” in terms of Cyril of Alexandria’s christological formulation (mia cnris ton qeou sesarkomeph) they were not confusing the two natures, or accepting one and rejecting the other, the divine and the human, but were professing them united unconfusedly and unseparably and, that on the other side, the Byzantines while speaking of “two natures” were not separating Christ in two entities. As St. Nerses the Gracious had said in his first doctrinal exposé “If one says ‘One nature’ in the sense of unmixable and indivisible union and not in the sense of confusion, and if one says ‘two natures’ as being without confusion and without alteration and not meaning ‘division’ [then] both are within the orbit of orthodoxy (‘true faith’)”.4
4 See “Pontifical Letter” (“Enthanrakan Toukhl”, Jerusalem, 1871, p.97, ef. pp, 124-126 and 246).
The negotiations conducted through correspondence, delegations, reached, on Armenian side, to a willingness to recognize the orthodoxy of the Byzantine Church if this latter would consider the Armenian position as fully orthodox without insisting on the acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon and other Greek liturgical and Byzantine canonical or hierarchical traditions and making it a condition for such recognition. This was the conclusion that vas reached at in the bishops’ Council, called in 1179 by Catholicos “Krikor the Young” (“Tegha”) in Hromkla, where was situated at that time the Seat of the Catholicosate of the All Armenians.
But before the emperor had received the official response of the Armenian Church he died and the political events in Byzantium took such a course that the unity so desired and pursued by the two Churches from 1165 to 1179 did not materialized in the concrete life of the Churches.5
5 See Sirarpie Der-Nersessian, “Armenia and the Byzantine Empire”, the chapter on Ecclesiastical Relations, Cambridge, Mass. 1947.
e) In later centuries when the kingdom of Cilicia entered into close relationship with succeeding waves of the Crusaders passing through the Gates of Cilicia, the Armenian Church developed various forms of relationships with the Latin Church of the West, because the Crusades included in their leading ranks Papal envoys and emissaries who maintained continuous ties with the Armenian Church authorities. It is a commonly known fact that most of these relations were conducted with political motivations often encouraged by the kings and political authorities of Cilician Armenia with the hope and expectation that through such ecclesiastical rapprochement the Western powers of the time would extend their assistance in support of the Armenian kingdom and people of Cilicia.
The popes actively pursued such relationship with one clear and unquestionable intention: to bring the Armenian Church in the line of the dogmatic tenets and liturgical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and to see the Armenian Church authority be subjugated to the Papal authority.
I cannot go in detail about the various aspects of these relations. Elsewhere I have analyzed their fundamental trends and have assessed the salient points and the nature of the relationship in another article.6
6 See my article in the volume published by Centre National de Recherches Scicniifiques of France and edited by Claude Moutafian under the title of “Le Royaume Arménien de Cilicie Xlle-XIVe siècle Paris, 1993. My conlribution undcr thc titlc nf “L’ARMENIE CECUMENIQUE”, pp,148-151.
Besides, the controversial nature of the relationship and the futile outcome in doctrinal matters, cultural and liturgical aspects of the Armenian Church and literature were affected. The positive value in all these relationships was that the Western culture of that time became a source of enrichment both on the levels of Science and Arts such as literature, manuscript illumination as well as aspects of social conditions of life.
At the end of this very brief outline of certain moments, trends and features of ecumenical relations of the Armenian Church in the past, I come now to the second part of my presentation which concerns the German-Armenian relationships, especially on theological scholarly cooperation of exemplary nature of mutual openness and of tangible outcome and concrete realizations.
Towards the end of the 19th century the Armenian Church with its spiritual center of Holy Etchmiadzin opened a new page of ecumenical openness this time with academic centers and circles of German theological scholarship and the Protestant Churches in Germany. It is much better known by you than by me that the last three decades of the century marked a significant turning point in German Protestant theological thought. Historical and Patristic studies in the early centuries of Christian history had given way to a new interpretation of the essence of the Christian faith. One of the outstanding figures of this period, an internationally known scholar-theologian, Adolf von Harnack made a real impact on the direction of Christian theological thinking in Germany when he advocated for the liberation of Christian faith from its dogmatic entanglements. Through his extensive biblical and patristic studies, particularly his masterly work, the seven-volume “History of Dopma” (The summary published in one volume under the title of “Outlines of the History of Dogma”) he showed that the simplicity of Christ’s teaching as displayed in the Gospels had been blurred and even distorted by being treated and interpreted through norms of Greek philosophical and metaphysical thinking. For him, the core of the Gospel content is ethical in nature. The conceptualized, intellectualistic and rationalistic interpretations had carried the Christian faith to a dogmatic formulation process that had damaged the existential nature of Christian religion. The living and life-giving force of the Christian faith that by its very nature appeals so directly to human persons, to human life and experience had lost its power by being coined, so to speak, in sterile dogma, formulated and proclaimed by Church authorities and deeply influenced and conditioned by philosophical rationalistic patterns of thought.
It was in this particular theological scholarly climate that found themselves young Armenian students (mostly ordained deacons) who had come from the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin to Germany, namely, to Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Tuhingen, and elsewhere, to pursue their theological studies in German centers of high learning and research work.
I cannot give a full account of all that they achieved in their studies in Germany and, more importantly, what they accomplished after they returned to their own Church center in Etchmiadzin and to their own country of Armenia. But surely they opened a new page in the ecumenical relationship between Germany and Armenia mostly in the areas of theological research, patristic studies and Christian preaching.
Among a large number of such students (Karapet Ter- Mkrtchian, Kevork Tcheurekchian, Karekin Hovsepian, Gomitas Vardapet, Housig Zohrabian, Yervant Ter-Minassiantz and others) I would like to single out two names who have a particular significance for me: Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian and Karekin Hovsepian.
The first has had a decisive role in my own theological studies because his books and articles have not only nurtured me in terms of scientific knowledge, but also, and mainly, in terms of theological orientation, of objective methodology in research studies and of such an approach to themes and subjects of study that I would call an attitude of integrity.
The second, Karekin Hovsepian, later Catholicos of Cilicia, made another kind of deep impact on the process my personal spiritual and intellectual formation, because I came to know him in Antelias when I was a very young student in the Seminary and had ample occasions of listening to him and seeing him in the classroom, in his private study room, on the Church pulpit, on the lecture podiums and in places such as a printing press and the Library, where he often visited for the preparation and printing of his own literary works, particularly his monumental work “The Colophons of the Manuscripts”.
Again the time is too limited to permit me to present the whole theological and scholarly work of these two great scholars with their German scientific formation who immensely helped them in carrying on their ministry to the Armenian Church and their services to the Armenian culture.
I would like only to hint at certain aspects, indeed, very selectively and in a generalizing manner.
Upon their return to Armenia in 1894 and in 1897, Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian and Karekin Hovsepian were engaged mainly in four domains of service:
A) Theological Education (Training in the Seminary of Etchmiadzin by assuming the functions of Dean and of lecturer).
B) Religious preaching in word and in print through sermons and written articles for adult education, mainly as editor and contributor to the official monthly review ARARAT of the Catholicosate of All Armenians.
C) Administrative work in the Church center itself and in different dioceses, in the capacities as diocesan bishop, or patriarchal legate or school teacher.
D) Scholarly Research work in the fields of patristic literature, Armenian art history (manuscripts, miniature, architecture, sculpture) Church history interwoven with national history.
You well understand that it will be impossible to make an exhaustive presentation of their work in all these domains. It would take a long series of lectures, articles and even volumes to fully cover their literary work. Surely the most productive and valuable part of these four areas of service has been the last one, the theological and scholarly work accomplished by them.
Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian’s discoveries of the Armenian version of St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s “Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching”, a work lost in its original greek, of certain books and fragments of the same St. Irenaeus’ monumental work, “Adversus Omnes Haereses”, of Timothy Aelurus’ “Refutation of the Council of Chalcedon”, of “Knik Havatoy” (“The Seal of Faith”) as mentioned above proved, indeed, to be substantial contributions to Christian patristic scholarship.7
7 See details in Sahine Stepan, Karapet Episkopos Ter-Mkrtchian, Halle (Saale), 1983.
Karekin Hovsepian’s discovery of the doctrinal (christological) homilies of the 8th century Armenian Church Father Khosrovik Tarkmanitch and several other scholarly articles and books on the history of Armenian art and manuscript miniatures and colophons, constitute, indeed, a most valuable service to the advance of Armenological studies.8
8 See HASK ihe monthly review, of the Catholicosatc of Cilicia, June 1952, Antelias, Lebanon.
What I would like to indicate for the purpose of my allocution today is that the two, together with their other colleagues, introduced a new theological line of thought and interpretation of Christian faith in the Armenian Church in East Armenia. They fully utilized all the benefits that they had received through their education in Germany. With them, through their solid scholarly work, the scientific approach replaced, so to speak, the purely traditional and traditionalistic narrow approach of theological writing and religious preaching.
Their services in Armenia inaugurated a new epoch of reformatory work without jeopardizing the true, authentic character and the living nature of the Tradition of their own Church. As Gomitas Vardapet did for the Armenian music purifying it from the unauthentic and distorting influences and deformations that it had undergone and restoring its true image, so Karapet Ter Mkrtchian and Karekin Hovsepian tried to rediscover the original dynamic features of the Armenian Church’s theological, spiritual, intellectual, and cultural tradition.
I remember, the late Catholic theologian Fr. Yves Congar who used to explain the convening of the Second Vatican Council by ascribing its very idea and its great work of theological exposition of the Roman Catholic Church to three factors, which he called resourcement in French:
a) Renewal of Biblical studies
b) Renewal of liturgical texts and living traditions
c) Renewal of Patristic studies.
These German-educated Armenian church servants and scholars tried to apply the same methods of historical research and inquiry in the whole tradition of the Armenian Church to clarify and to rediscover the true ethos of the Armenian Church’s self understanding by purifying it from later acquisitions and stereotype, stagnant, and formalistic mentalities and patterns of Church life. They wanted to see the living and life-giving spirit of the Gospel and the Church Fathers’ thinking come back to life in the actual concrete condition of the Church life. They had to take seriously into consideration the new scientific, secularistic trends in human life and culture. Indeed, they were healthily challenged while they pursued their studies in Germany by the theological thought of professors, leading theologians, philosophers and Church historians such as Adolf von Harnack, Ch. H. Luthardt, T. v. Zahn, H. Guthe, W. Wundt, E. Haupt, Friedrich Loofs, K. Lamprecht and so many others.
It is remarkable, indeed, to see that Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian in the first three years of this century, between 1901 and 1903 wrote a series of nine articles in the review ARARAT under the title of “The Essence of Christianity” almost following the example of his eminent teacher Adolf von Harnack who in the six-month semester of 1899-1900 had given a series of sixteen lectures to more than 600 students from various faculties of Berlin university on the theme of “The Essence of Christianity” which had made such a strong impact not only in Germany, but also in other parts of Europe and America. Let us hear to what Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian himself says in this respect:
“The world-widely renowned scholar-theologian (Adolf von Harnack) addressed himself to such a generation of young people who stood on the highest level of contemporary civilization and entirely are imbued with the ideas of their century. He (Harnack) did set for himself a purpose, as he indicates in the preface, i.e. through historical investigation by weighing the value of the purely historical realities, to enable people “to capture the essential and the perm;inent in the appearances”, and to see that Christianity, wh;itever directions and confessions it has been divided into, inwardly is one and the same source of life for all Christians.
“I also will try, without necessarily following him step by step, without always borrowing his ideas, but only by dealing with the same issues that he raises and relating them to the understanding of my readers, to show, in a series of articles, what is the essential and the permanent in Christianity, and, then, if the time permits, [to show] in what aspects and in what way that “essential and permanent” is expressed in our present-day ecclesiastical life, or what new aspects have to come forth and how they should be given shape so that the essential and permanent may be truly expressed”.9
9 The Essence of Christianity, p.28, Antelias, 1993.
And then he goes on to speak about the principal predicaments or the fundamental principles of Christian faith as related to the various aspects of human life as seen in the Armenian context. Some of the titles of the succeeding articles by themselves are most eloquent in this respect: “The Gospel and the World”, “The Gospel and Poverty”, “The Gospel and Authority”, “The Gospel and Culture (or Civilization)” etc.
Karekin Hovsepian during his lifetime (in 1947) did publish a collection of his theological and hermeneutical writings, homilies and other public utterances in a volume under the significant title of “Towards Light and Life”. Those writings which come from his early years of Church ministry, in the years between 1897 and 1916, touch upon similar issues with similar scientific approach. Here are a few revealing titles: “Christianity: The Way to perfection”, “The Key to Life”, “Science and Church”, “The ideal for the Christian”, “The Calling of the Church-under the light of history” etc.
Most of the scholars while studying the life and work of these two Armenian eminent church figures usually focus their attention on the scholarly and often on the secular aspects of their historiographical and philological heritage. Hardly they touch upon the religious, theological, ethical aspects of their literary legacy.
I think I am justified in saying that the German-educated clergy that I mentioned in this sketchy type of presentation and particularly the two most outstanding figures among them, namely Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian and Karekin Hovsepian opened a new page of what I would call today a theological and ecclesiastical renewal movement. Unfortunately it was short-lived. One must admit that the initiators and propagators of this new trend of spiritual reawakening and theological conscientization did not move “in green pastures” and did not navigate “on still waters” to use the Biblical terms of the Psalm. They encountered opposition and indifference. The traditionalist sectors were hard enough to break through. They were generally depicted and accused as having been so deeply influenced by the German Protestant theological thinking that they had betrayed their own Fathers’ legacy and the true Armenian Orthodox tradition.
But the impact was made and their work has even now become a source of inspiration for the new generation of clergy that is being trained in Holy Etchmiadzin in these years of freedom and independence of Armenia in these decisive and crucial times of recovery for the Armenian Church.
Today we face a new situation both in World Christianity, here in Germany, and in my own country of Armenia. If I rightly read “the signs of the time”, to use a Biblical term, there are new trends of theological thinking and of spiritual life. The ecumenical movement is passing through most difficult and challenging times. The present-day scientific, industrial, technological discoveries and inventions have not affected only the physical or material sides of our societies, but also the spiritual, ethical and social realms of our human life, New codes of moral behaviour, new movements of spiritual quest, new mentalities of extreme secularistic orientation have emerged putting us all before a new agenda, both in our Churches and in our ecumenical encounters. The Churches are being once more challenged; they are called once more to look afresh in their own self-understanding in the light of the Gospel and of the authentic Tradition of the Church, as well as the modern trends in the life of humankind.
With the collapse of the Soviet system, with the challenges that are being presented to us through our encounter with other living religions, with the re-awakening of East European countries to the aspiration of spiritual life and of human freedom, and with so many other new situations we are facing at this time of the end of the second millenium, we are in dire need of strengthening and deepening our common ecumenical commitment.
In the last three years that I have spent in Armenia, within the new context of a free and independent State, where the Church has regained its freedom of preaching and serving, and by having been called to the heaviest and highest spiritual responsibility as Catholicos of All Armenians, I see the great need for re-energizing the witness of our Armenian Apostolic Church. We are just coming out of a period of seventy years of aggressively atheistic régime which has left such a strong impact on the mind and the life of our people, as on other peoples who underwent such situations in which every effort was made to eliminate religion from the texture of human life.
Having also been personally involved in the ecumenical movement for more than forty years in my ministry, I know how important is, and how beneficial may become, the openness to one another, the commonness of our calling and the concertation of our efforts to meet the new challenges of our times. The ecumenical movement has been a source of theological and spiritual enrichment for me as for many others who have genuinely and commitedly been involved in it. In spite of all the new difficulties, even sometimes of crises, we are bound by our Lord and His commission to pursue the followship and the dialogue not only in the sense of exchange of ideas and knowledge and information, but also and mainly in the sense of sharing together our own traditions and experiences of life. The time of the polemics is over. The new imperative is the call to true, sincere and commonly committed dialogue.
In Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabagh and also in our world- wide diaspora we are called to a new task. It consists in reviving “the essential and the permanent” dimensions of the faith of Christ and the teachings of our Fathers, the spirit and the legacy of such generations who through their saintly life and actions lived that faith through the centuries of tribulation and trial.
The challenge of modernistic, even post-modern, extremely secularistic and areligious currents of influences are, indeed, very serious. The aspiration for spiritual values is there; the people are in dire need. The Gospel picture of the people is as real today as in the time of our Lord: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (St. Matt. 9:36-39). But if we fail today in responding to it properly and adequately, we will have missed a God-given opportunity. The vaccum thus created will be surely filled by elements alien or even opposed to our Christian faith.
And here, in this task of paramount importance and of urgent nature we need the solidarity of our Christian brethren and sisters in other churches and countries, including Germany. We are now actively engaged in the immediately essential work of preparing a new generation of servants of the Church, both clerical and lay, men and women, who can carry on the Christ-given mandate of the Church and make it accessible to, acceptable for, and respondable by the people.
In one word, we need to enter in the process of formation of such a generation that can remake the image and revive the spirit and the intellectual and moral stature of such figures as Karapet Ter-Mkrtchian and Karekin Hovsepian. A new line of genuine ecumenical relationship should be initiated between our Church of Armenia and the German Churches, both Catholic and Protestant. I earnestly hope that the new world communication facilities will help us in promoting such cooperation for the benefit of our respective Churches and for the cause of the unity and the mission of the Church of Christ.
All depends on our willingness and sincerity, authenticity, endurance and perseverance of our ecumenical commitment. The past experience should not remain as a remembrance of things done, but must become a source of inspiration for things to be done; and to be done with a determined common engagement in the present and with a prospect and vision for the future.