Armenian News Network / Groong

New Priests Bolster St. James Brotherhood Ranks

Armenian News Network / Groong
July 30, 2007

By Arthur Hagopian


Ordination in Jerusalem
Ordination ceremony of three new priests in Jerusalem.

The golden threads of the sun rappel through the high windows and entwine the velvet mists of incense floating in the air, before settling on the forms of the three figures kneeling before the cross and the bible.

The candles on the resplendent altar flare as if in joy at the mysterious age-old ceremony being enacted before them.

Their heads bowed in obedience, the three young men prepare to take their final vows as newly ordained members of the priestly brotherhood of the Armenian Patriarchate of St James in Jerusalem.

They have renounced the world and its enticements to dedicate their lives to God and their services to the Armenian Apostolic Church. In their new roles, they will become teachers and shepherds and provide for the spiritual needs of their flock in the holy city of Jerusalem or in any other part of the world where Armenians have a church.

Their guide and mentor is Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, who until recently had been serving the church in the US, but has been recalled to Jerusalem to act as the patriarchate's director of ecumenical and foreign relations.

Shirvanian stands by their side to encourage and support as the Grand Sacristan of the patriarchate, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, leads them in prayer and lays his hands upon their head in manumission.

Across the nave, seated in the historic throne of St James, patriarch Torkom Manoogian observes the ceremony with silent and delightful gratification. This is one of the highlights of his mission as head of the Armenian church in the Holy Land ever since his election 17 years ago.

The church is packed and as the young men don their cowls, symbols of their new status as celibate priests, there is an audible sigh of awe from the jubilant congregation.

The new priests the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem has just ordained will bolster the ranks of the Brotherhood of St James, infusing its ranks with much needed new blood.

The three men, Avedik Alekyan, Pavel Tavtyan, and Arthur Paloyan, all in their 20's, who have completed their theological studies at the patriarchate's seminary, will henceforth be known as Father Vazken, Yeghishe and Shnork.

`All three are serious and faithful servants of the Lord and will be a great asset of the Armenian Apostolic Church,' Shirvanian told this correspondent.

They will not only augment the number of the Brotherhood members, but also reinvigorate its ranks and make the monumental and far-flung task of the patriarchate a little easier, according to Shirvanian.

Their ordination comes at a critical juncture for the Armenian church in the Holy Land. Attrition, due either to natural causes or overseas postings, has been taking a heavy toll among the Brotherhood, and replacing lost members, among them some of the church's most illustrious, has not been easy.

Ever since its establishment, the Holy See of Jerusalem has been the principal fount of spiritual manpower catering to the needs of the Armenian church in the diaspora. Almost every single diocese overseas that belongs to the Mother church in Armenia is staffed by priests ordained in Jerusalem.

One of the most magnificent religious edifices in the entire Middle East, the Cathedral of St James has long been a lodestone for holy order aspirants. Some of them have been non-Armenians, inspired by the teachings and example of Gregory the Illuminator. Shirvanian is hopeful that the current attrition trend can be reversed. He told this correspondent he has high hopes for the future.

`I expect a good crop to be harvested in the foreseeable future from our seminary,' he said.

With five new deacons, Samuel Safaryan, Ararat Zargaryan, Narek Mkrtchyan, Pavel Karapetyan and Sahak Hovakimyan, aged 19-22, currently being groomed for priesthood and expected to graduate next year, his hopes are based on firm ground.

The Jerusalem theological seminary, a gift of American Armenian philanthropist Alex Manoogian, has graduated a score of priests ever since its inception. It is sited just outside the walls of the convent of St James, and has been built on the site of the encampment of the Xth Legion of Rome that conquered the Jewish stronghold of Masada near the Dead Sea. It replaces the beautiful structure inside the convent that has been ravaged by old age.

The seminary, with Father Theodoros Zakaryan as its dean, boasts among its faculty, some of the Armenian world's most respected educators.

`All our classes (five secondary and three theological faculties) are full,' Shirvanian noted.

`Currently we have 30 students, 27 from Armenia and three from Turkey, and we expect 10 more new applicants from Armenia,' he said.

Over the past several years, the usual candidate pipeline from the Arab world dried up in the wake of the political turmoil in the Middle East, and was replaced by a stead influx from the Motherland.

The new additions to the ranks of the Brotherhood of St James will boost the number of its members in the Holy Land to 20.

Of these, 12 are from Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and the rest, like the three new priests, come from Armenia.

In addition, there are another 7 archbishops and 10 celibate priests serving in the diasporan dioceses belonging to the Mother church.

In keeping with a tradition initiated by Jesus himself, the new priests will spend a forty day period of prayer and fasting in the Armenian convent of Bethlehem, preparing to take on their new vocation.

Arthur Hagopian is a Jerusalem Armenian and has worked at the
Patriarchate as Press Officer and personal secretary for His Beatitude
Patriarch Manoogian. He has worked for major news organizations like
Reuters and AP, and holds a MA in educational administration,
authoring, web development.
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