Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, called for more government action against poverty and injustice in Armenia as he celebrated a Christmas mass at the Echmiadzin cathedral on Saturday.
“Along with the achievements gained through the unshaken will and dedication of our people, our country is still facing unemployment and poverty,” Garegin said in a homily read out during the service attended by senior government officials.
“There is a need for continuing efforts to strengthen hope for the future, faith in justice, and to overcome the social, economic, and other challenges facing our national life,” he added in an apparent appeal to the Armenian government which he rarely criticizes in public.
A key member of the government, Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian, participated in the liturgy as a ceremonial “godfather” of a large cross with which Garegin blessed holy water inside vessels placed on the ancient church’s altar.
Garegin also deplored lingering hardship as well as wars and other conflicts around the world. “In this time of defense of human rights, the rights of people and nations are being violated,” he said. “In our days of dialogues, many people become subject to intolerance, hatred on a religious basis, terrorism; and become victims of various kinds of violence.”
“Drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and other kinds of addictions, become evil to societies and families: people addicted to these become unable to properly organize their lives, some find themselves in despair and commit suicide,” he went on.
The Armenian 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 became a public holiday in the South Caucasus country after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
In his latest Christmas message, Garegin urged the church faithful to become “new souls free of sins.” “By accepting in our hearts infant Jesus, let us keep strong our faith and our pious path of life so that we may always enjoy the care and endless love of God,” 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. They also reaffirmed their opposition to same-sex marriage.