Artur Terian in Moscow
The rift in the Russia diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church deepened on Friday as its former controversial prelate rejected as illegitimate his ouster from the clergy ordered by Catholicos Garegin II. Archbishop Tiran Kyureghian, excommunicated the previous day for his refusal to recognize Echmiadzin's authority, said Garegin's decision has no legal force because it contradicts the centuries-old rules and traditions of the Armenian church. Kyureghian said his religious splinter group, called the Moscow Union of the Armenian Church, will only comply with the decisions of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, the church's supreme representative body that elected Garegin in October 1999.
Archbishop Tiran Kyureghian
The row erupted last year when the Catholicos dismissed Kyureghian as head of the Russia diocese and replaced him by his brother, Bishop Yezras Kyureghian. Kyureghian insists that the pontiff is not empowered to make senior appointments single-handedly.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, the defiant cleric also denied the allegations that he had been removed because of misusing funds collected for the ongoing construction of a new Armenian cathedral in the Russian capital.
The scandal, which threatens to split one of the biggest Armenian communities abroad, comes as a big embarrassment for the Armenian Church which is celebrating this year the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity as state religion. There has been no reaction from the authorities in Yerevan yet.