By Anna Karapetian in Echmiadzin
Dozens of representatives of Christian churches from around the world, who have converged on Armenia to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of its conversion to Christianity, conducted a joint ecumenical service at the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Echmiadzin on Saturday. The high-ranking clerics, including Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Theochrist, paid tribute to Armenia’s contribution to the Christian faith at an ensued welcoming ceremony.
The representatives of virtually all Christian denominations making up the World Council of Churches were later joined by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexi II, as they attended the blessing of chrism, a specially prepared liquid used in Christian ceremonies.
Alexi went straight into Echmiadzin after his arrival at the Yerevan airport on Saturday. He was received by President Robert Kocharian later in the day.
He is due to end his visit before Tuesday’s arrival in Armenia of Pope John Paul II, ending speculation about a possible historic summit of the two rival churches on the sidelines of the anniversary celebrations.
Armenian church leaders and the delegations from Orthodox, Protestant, Coptic and Syriac denominations were expected to issue a joint statement condemning last week’s terrorist attacks in the United States. They prayed Friday for victims of the attacks at the medieval Khor Virap monastery in southern Armenia.
Catholicos Garegin II, said in a speech at Echmiadzin that a closer cooperation among the religious leaders will contribute to peace in the world. He will preside over the blessing of a newly built Cathedral of Saint Gregory the Illuminator in Yerevan on Sunday. The cathedral will contain the relics of the first Armenian Catholicos, which were handed to Garegin by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Vatican last November.
An ancient Armenian kingdom was the first in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 A.D.