Faith in Christianity remains vital for the survival and prosperity of the Armenian people, Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, insisted on Friday as he celebrated a Christmas mass at the Echmiadzin cathedral.
In his homily read out during the service, Garegin said Armenians must stick to what has been their dominant religion since the beginning of the 4th century. He also deplored violent conflicts, terrorism, injustice and other “sinful ways of evil” persisting around the world.
“The message of renewal in the Gospel and the apostolic exhortation have perpetually resonated with and sustained our people,” Garegin told hundreds of worshipers -- among them Prime Minister Karen Karapetian and other senior government officials -- attending at the liturgy.
“Life renewed by the Gospel for centuries has granted our people the fortitude of faith, strength of soul, and courage to be able to withstand tribulations, to endure hardships, and to create accomplishments worthy of written remembrance.”
“With this same spirit, we confront the illegal blockade of our homeland and military provocations that cost lives,” he said in a clear reference to Armenia’s unresolved conflicts with Azerbaijan and Turkey.
“Let us be strengthened by the Lord, so that our hopes become a reality and our national goals are accomplished,” added Garegin. “May we … keep the faith in our souls bright and, like the wise men, make fidelity and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ our life’s path and destination.”
The Apostolic Church, to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong, has traditionally marked Christmas on January 6. Celebrations of the holiday start late on January 5 with Christmas Eve candlelight services held in churches in and outside Armenia. Christmas has been a public holiday in the South Caucasus country ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
“Through Christ, the world, roiling in a tempest of sin, was renewed and humanity was graced with the chance to become new again by heeding the message of establishing peace, love and goodwill in the world,” Garegin declared during the mass broadcast live by Armenian television.
“Sadly, however, the sinful ways of evil persist in opposition to God,” he said. “Wars, conflicts, and terrorism are unceasing; human rights are being violated, and genocides and cultural destruction have yet to receive their just condemnation. Greed and the craving to for riches lead to fraud and abuse causing human tragedies, polarization of society and social injustice.
“Alongside kindness and honesty we witness hatred and treachery, and beside humility and dedication, we witness blind ambition and obsession for power.”
Adherence to Christianity represents “the hope of renewal” for the world, Garegin went on. “Christ’s redemptive work in the world is the model for envisioning one’s own mission in the establishment of national and universal good and working together to create the paths of happiness, progress, and achievements,” he said.
Garegin decried attempts to “build a world without God” in June 2016 during a mass held in Echmiadzin in the presence of the visiting Pope Francis. He said they are at the root of political, socioeconomic and even environmental problems facing humanity.
In a joint declaration issued at the time, Francis and Garegin similarly voiced concern at the declining role of religion and “the crisis of the family” in many Christian nations. In that regard, they reaffirmed their opposition to same-sex marriage.
The statement also praised “the continuing and growing closeness” between the Roman Catholic and Armenian churches which was underscored by Francis’s three-day visit to Armenia.
Francis repeatedly paid tribute to Armenia’s Christian heritage during the landmark trip. “For Armenia, faith in Christ has not been like a garment to be donned or doffed as circumstances or convenience dictate, but an essential part of its identity,” the pontiff said at the Echmiadzin cathedral on June 24.