The Armenian Church is Held Hostage by Its Hierarchy: Part 3
By Vosgan Mekhitarian
November 5, 2013
The continuing culture of corruption and abuse of power at the Catholicosate level of the Armenian church becomes more than evident when we consider the impact the resignation letter of the Primate of France, His Eminence Archbishop NorvanZakarian, has been having on the psyche of the current and future generations of the clergy.
Let us begin our analysis of the present state of affairs of the Armenian Church by introducing Archbishop NorvanZakarian, in order to provide a context for understanding the unjust victimization and severity of penal threats levied by CatholicosKarekin II against this devoted and humble servant of God.
Archbishop NorvanZakarian was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1940. After graduating from the local parochial elementary school, he attended the seminary of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia. Thereafter, he pursued his higher education at the St. James’ Brotherhood Seminary in Jerusalem. In 1967, he went to France to continue his theological studies. Archbishop SerovpeManoukian, the former Primate of France, recognized the exceptional character of this young seminarian and ordained him as celibate priest in 1968.
In appreciation of his many years of service in the Church, His Holiness CatholicosVazken I ordained him a bishop in 1982. Bishop Zakarian has had a long and distinguished track record of selfless and obedient service to his parish and church. Moreover, he played an instrumental role in creating and establishing the Armenian Church Diocese of France. He was the force behind the movement that transformed that dream into reality.
In 2007, by a majority of the votes of the Diocesan Assembly he was elected as the first Primate of the newly-created Diocese of France, followed by his nomination as a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and appointment as Pontifical Legate to the Armenian communities of Western Europe.
Those who have come to know Archbishop Zakarian have consistently regarded him as a model clergyman, always willing and able to serve the needs of his parishioners, who possesses the intellectual integrity of the highest caliber—predicating any number of important achievements. This is truly a dedicated man of the cloth, who has become the pride of the Church and has won the hearts and minds of the faithful.
Archbishop NorvanZakarian is currently being targeted for ostracization and vilified by vengeful wrath and subsequent shunning by the Catholicos for not supporting the priest VatcheHairabedian, a known convicted criminal. Archbishop Zakarian summarizes his disappointment at Karekin II’s behavior and verbal invectives in his letter, stating, “For a while now, I have come to realize that insulting me and hurting my feelings somehow gives you pleasure. Your accusations addressed to me, indeed, surprise me. You probably do not realize you are squashing the moral integrity of a human being beneath your feet.”
The phrase, “for a while now” leads one to believe that this volley of threats is not singular in nature, but just the latest attempt to humiliate and defrock him by a disgruntled and vindictive head of the church. In fact, the Archbishop iterates in his four-page letter addressed to the members of the Supreme Spiritual Council many other instances of his public chastisement by the Catholicos. We must ask ourselves if this is the just and proper show of appreciation for his 45 years of dutiful service to the Church and nation. Granted, as Christians we can only expect recognition for our good deeds from the Almighty. However, is it not only reasonable to expect not to be persecuted and undermined for such deeds? How can such indefensible behavior by the highest authority of the Church be justified and what message does it send to the new, aspiring generation of seminarians vowed to serve the Church?
A specific incident in a public location, disclosed by Archbishop NorvanZakarian, attests to the extent of the injury inflicted on him by His Holiness Karekin II, who, upon visiting the Diocese in France, launched into a tirade, declaring, “I will take away your hood…I will take away your cloak…I will make you stand before your parishioners and have them witness your punishment. You will not be able to perform conduct any ceremonies such as baptisms, matrimony or funeral.”
Archbishop Zakarian has expressed his frustrations with the leadership of the Church by reiterating that the Armenian Church has long stood for love, grace, and compassion, whereas the current powers have instilled a culture of fear and intimidation.
Indeed, this is a very sad state of affairs, but these revelations are nothing new. Other high and low ranking priests have been targeted as well, yet the turmoil and abuse of power continues. His Holiness Aram I, of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, suffers from the same megalomaniacal psychopathy, who has declared on several occasions to his young priests, “…anyone who does not listen and obey my orders, I will smash him and cast aside like a dirty rag and will humiliate him, and will make him suffer”. Young priests, the world over, are attesting to this kind of humiliation today. How is it feasible to attract young people to come and serve the Church under such dreadful conditions? Indeed, it is not!
Let us make it clear: our concerns are not so much with particular individuals, --although the actions of the current leadership is at best deplorable,-- but with the lack of brotherly love among all priests and absence of the manifestations of love that was taught to us by Jesus Christ. Concomitantly, we should be distressed by the lawlessness within the hierarchy of Church because at the heart of the matter is a representative institution, for, of, and by the people. Where there is no law, there is infamy and the law of jungle, and hence one loses the ability to listen to public opinion and the ability to conquer conflict or bridge differences, especially among ensuing generations, who are now privy to the turmoil in and moral turpitude of the Church.
The Church can once again become a beacon of moral and constructive behavior, but only when the ranks of the concerned faithful servants of God abide by His Word and begin acting accordingly. Alas, I am not referring the cowards or those who have sold their souls to please the authorities and gain temporal, worldly awards and decorations.
Adding insult to injury, non-elected members of the Supreme Spiritual Council of Etchmiadzin have rendered decisions which exemplify their obsequious nature and servile obedience to the morally bankrupt authority of the Church.
His Holiness Karekin II, in his letter to Archbishop Zakarian, states, “ We were surprised to read your letter and the accusations that you make. It is your duty to prove to the Supreme Spiritual Council in session that your accusations are founded and that you have evidence to prove your allegations”. At prima facie, it seems utterly ridiculous to demand substantiation for something that occurred at a public location and was witnessed by dozens of officials, but there we are at an absurd point of having to prove that the rant of CatholicosKarekin II at the Orly airport of Paris, France, actually took place. Isn’t this latest demand a clear case of the abuse of power and rule with impunity by the head of the Church?
Who among us is going to have the courage to stand up and declare the truth? For, as the Bible says, “there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed” (Matt. 10:26).
(To be continued)