Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, has urged Armenians to stay loyal to the basic tenets of Christianity in the face of what he called a decline in “traditional family values” resulting from excessive freedom.
In a sermon read out during the Christmas Mass celebrated at the main Armenian cathedral in Echmiadzin on Monday, Garegin said freedom of expression is increasingly abused by people in Armenia and around the world to the detriment of “the truth” embodied by Jesus Christ.
“Traditional family values are in retreat, and so is, in the face of difficulties, the spirit of conscientiousness,” he said mid-way through the liturgy broadcast live by leading Armenian TV channels. “Unreserved behavior and insult are regarded as courageous; responsibility is subordinated to rights. Frequently, the right to express one’s personal opinion is wrongly utilized to distort the truth, in order to spread subjective or biased opinions.
“It is in this mentality that falsehood is veiled with a mask of truth, debate becomes argument, discussion transforms into scorn and condemnation, from which the Spirit of God’s truth and the wisdom of God move away; and we have difficulty – yes, even cease – to see the good and the just; and faith and trust in one another, as well as hope and optimism for the future, all weaken in our lives.”
Garegin also deplored aggressive human rights advocacy in and outside Armenia, saying that it sometimes forces conservative societies to “adopt behaviors that are contradictory with societal thinking and value structures.” He did not specify those behaviors.
“It is in this manner that morality in the world cedes ground to immorality, freedom of speech is transformed to licentiousness of speech, and testimony becomes the distortion of truth,” added the Catholicos. “The world shall be liberated of these life-agitating realities when men accept the truth of Christ, when they witness the presence of the Lord through their faithful works, and like the Apostle, proclaim, ‘…the truth of Christ is in me!’”
Although Garegin named no names, his critical remarks appeared to be, at least in part, a broadside aimed at opposition and civic figures increasingly critical of his leadership one of one of the world’s oldest churches. The critics are especially unhappy with his reluctance to speak out against human rights abuses, government corruption and injustice in the country. Some of them have also denounced the pontiff for effectively siding with the current and former Armenian governments in their standoffs with opposition forces.
In particular, Garegin came under opposition fire after endorsing the official results of Armenia’s February 2013 presidential election that gave victory to the incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian. He personally delivered a congratulatory message to Sarkisian together with several other high-ranking clergymen the day after the disputed ballot. “Your victory in the elections testifies to the fact that our people trust your programs of reformation,” read the message.
The church leadership went on to criticize post-election street protests organized in Yerevan by Raffi Hovannisian, the main opposition presidential candidate who claimed to be the rightful election winner. Hovannisian reacted angrily to the criticism. He accused Garegin of “desecrating the Bible” by attending and blessing Sarkisian’s inauguration for a second term.