The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, urged Armenians to reject “erroneous interpretation of freedom and rights” and stick to their Christian faith as he celebrated a Christmas mass on Monday.
“Dear faithful people, on this soul-renewing day of the Holy Nativity we also reflect with a sense of regret that in the midst of the diverse and contradictory developments of modern life, in the currents of secularization and conformity … the message of the Birth of Christ is often lost,” Garegin said in a homily read out at Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Cathedral in Yerevan.
“Dangerous imitations of true values are being promoted, which are stripped of the genuine principles of love of God and love of others and are built upon erroneous understanding and interpretation of freedom and rights,” he said. “To withstand these new realities and changing times, we must stand firm in our faith in Christ, revaluating our past, choosing renewal and adoption.”
Armenians must be “more decisive in the witnessing of our Christian identity” and “united through our spiritual values, through our faith, around our sacred homeland and our Holy Church,” he added during the liturgy attended by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other senior state officials.
Garegin did not specify concrete norms or practices rejected by the ancient church to which the vast majority of Armenia’s population nominally belongs.
The Catholicos championed traditional family values and blasted “pseudo-liberalism” in his previous Christmas sermon delivered a year ago.
A few months later, the Armenian Church’s top clergymen voiced strong opposition to a 2011 treaty that commits Council of Europe member states, including Armenia, to combatting violence against women. The extraordinary move came as Pashinian’s government indicated its intention to ensure the Armenian parliament’s ratification of the treaty known as the Istanbul Convention.
While supporting the protection of women, the church and socially conservative groups object to the convention’s definition of gender as “social roles, behaviors, activities and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men.” They say it paves way for introducing transsexual or transgender as separate categories and legalizing same-sex marriage. Government officials deny that.
Garegin and Pope Francis reaffirmed their opposition to same-sex marriage in a joint declaration during the pontiff’s June 2016 visit to Armenia. The two religious leaders also expressed concern at “the crisis of the family” in many Christian nations.
The Armenian Apostolic Church marks 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.