The Borgias of Etchmiadzin
BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
If it weren’t for the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus Christ would be rolling in his grave at the sight of one of his servants, a high-ranking cleric at Etchmiadzin, driving around town and meeting his flock in a Bentley.
Several weeks ago, the press in Armenia was abuzz with reports that Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan, the Vicar of the Ararat Diocese, which includes Yerevan and the portion of the Ararat province, had received a Bentley. The vehicle, valued at $180,000 to $280,000 was, according to the esteemed archbishop, a gift from one of his “godsons.”
When “168 Zham,” a Yerevan-based publication broke the news last month, Kchoyan told the paper to not meddle in his private life and on Wednesday shrugged off criticism of his expensive wheels, telling RFE/RL that he doesn’t “take that seriously,” and arrogantly asking “Should I have renounced the gift?”
On the heels of the Bentley revelation came reports from Hetq.am, a popular Armenian blog, that in 2007 Kchoyan received a pistol from then Prime Minister, Serzh Sarkisian. His spokeswoman reportedly told Hetq that he does not carry around the weapon
“In all countries, weapons are presented to all those who are appreciated,” Kchoyan told RFE/RL. “A weapon is [given as] appreciation, not for some other purpose.”
While His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians has been defrocking priests and archbishops left and right for violating “codes of conduct,” he has yet to offer an opinion, or more fitting in this case, a reprimand to Kchoyan, who has been linked closely to Sarkisian and his Republican Party.
While calls for reforms have been aplenty since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Armenian Church should have reformed and not fallen prey to the same oligarchic standards that have become commonplace for Armenia’s ruling elite.
Armenia has seen a rise in the practice of religion since independence and people place a high degree of respect to clerics. So, for a church leader to drive around town in a Bentley when the poverty rate in Armenia is not only in double-digits by exceeds 34 percent is nothing but blasphemy. Archbishop Kchoyan’s reckless disregard and attitude is even more unacceptable due to his position in the Armenian Church.
On the surface it appears that our esteemed Archbishop Kchoyan has committed at least three of the seven deadly sins: pride, gluttony and greed.
With the famed Borgias in vogue, thanks to an opulent new series starring Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons on Showtime, which premiered to higher-than-expected ratings last Sunday, it is difficult to not draw parallels with Rodrigo Borgia, who through palace intrigue became Pope Alexander VI, despite the fact that he had children and a wife and was known as one of the most bloody religious leaders in history.
The Archbishop Kchoyan episode raises interesting questions, which the press in Armenia has begun to probe. How rooted are these violations of basic Christian codes in the Armenian Church? What else is going on behind the closed doors of the Church? (i.e. how much wealth are these clerics amassing at the expense of the parishioners and at what cost?)
As a nation that prides itself as being the first to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, we must be more demanding of our clerics, be they in Armenia or elsewhere, to behave more humbly and shepherd their followers in accordance to Scripture.