(AFP) -- Dozens of representatives of Christian churches from around the world prayed Friday for victims of last week's suicide attacks on the US as Armenia marked 1,700 years of Christianity in the country.
Delegations from the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Lutheran Church of Denmark, the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Orthodox Indian Church descended on the Armenian capital for the historic occasion.
"This is a totally unprecedented event in the history of Christianity," said the organizer of the week-long celebrations, Archbishop Hovnan Terterian.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II is expected in Yerevan on Saturday, but is leaving before Pope John Paul II begins a three-day visit here starting on Tuesday. Together with the head of the Armenian church -- or Catholicos -- Patriarch Garegin II, the foreign dignitaries paid homage to the thousands who died in last week's terrorist attacks on the United States, as they joined in a ecumenical prayer in the Khor Virap monastery 40 kilometers southwest of Yerevan.
"Let us pray for them, so that the American people should never grieve and shed tears like this again," Garegin II said.
The visiting dignitaries were also due to visit Yerevan's Tsitsernakaberd hill, the site of a monument to the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Turkey which Yerevan regards as genocide.
The high point of the celebrations is to be the blessing Sunday of the new Cathedral of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, named after the first Armenian Catholicos, in central Yerevan. The cathedral contains some five-century-old icons from Naples, in southern Italy, that were handed to Garegin II by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Vatican last November.
Twelve years before the Christian faith was adopted by the Roman Empire, going on to become the dominant faith in Europe, Armenia -- one of the first countries to be visited by Christ's followers -- was officially proclaimed Christian in 301 under its king Tiridate III. During the many centuries of invasions, whether by Arab, Turkish, Persian or Russian forces, the Armenian Church was the main vehicle for the preservation of Armenian culture and identity.