The number two figure in the Armenian Apostolic Church called for a major reform of its structures and practices on Tuesday, saying that the ancient institution revered by most Armenians risks losing touch with its believers.
“The church will turn into a museum if it is not renovated,” the Lebanon-based Catholicos Aram I warned in his opening remarks at a landmark Bishops’ Synod held at the church’s Mother See in Echmiadzin, a small but historically important town 20 kilometers south of Yerevan.
The four-day conference, the first of its kind held in nearly 600 years, brought together more than 60 archbishops and bishops from the church dioceses in Armenia and around the world. They are due to review theological issues and ancient rites at the meeting chaired by Catholicos Garegin II, the church’s supreme head based in Echmiadzin. They will also discuss the beatification of some 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred in Ottoman Turkey a hundred years ago in the first genocide of the 20th century.
President Serzh Sarkisian also attended and addressed the opening session of what he described as a “historic event.” He expressed hope that the Synod will give new impetus to the “realization of our national aspirations.”
Garegin spoke of a “remarkable day for all of us” in his opening address to the leading Armenian clerics.
Aram, for his part, stressed the need for reforming one of the world’s oldest churches with which some 90 percent of Armenians are nominally affiliated. “We need to remain faithful to the old traditions of the Armenian church, while harmonizing them with modern times,” he declared. This means being “traditionalist but not obsessed with traditions,” he said.
Aram, who controls the Armenian Church dioceses in the Middle East as well as some of those in North America, complained that over the past few decades the church has solidified its “administrative-organizational side” at the expense of its “popular image,” “national role” and “spiritual core.” “Building a church is certainly important but becoming a church is much more important,” he said.
Accordingly, Aram, whose full title is Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, made a case for a greater role of laypersons in church affairs. “Our people must have something to say and to do on issues preoccupying their church,” he said.