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A Worldwide Weekend Spent On Studying the Armenian Church

Armenian Church class participants at St. Paul Armenian Church. L. to R.: Shant Postoyan, Heidi Dunbar, Shushan Khalachyan, Hasmik Khalachyan, Debbie Colagiovanni, Jeffrey Hunt, Mre. Riley, Tim Kuckenbaker, Chad Krikorian, Eric Mouradian, Sylvia Sarafian, and Daniel Rivera, Kneeling: Michael Harutinian and Francine Bellefeuille
By Chad Kirkorian and Michael Harutinian
Staff Writers

Armenian Studies120T -The Armenian Church was taught by Professor Barlow Der Mugrdecian on the weekend of February 19 and 20.  He spoke about: the evangelization of Armenia by Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and later by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301 A.D.; the significance of the major feast days in the Armenian Church; the role of the Armenian Church in the past and present of the Armenian people; and the current situation of the Armenian Church in the Republic of Armenia and the Diaspora.  On Saturday morning the class visited St. Paul Armenian Apostolic Church to study its construction and examine the architectural style of a traditional Armenian Church. The class also learned about the Lenten period and about the services of the Armenian Church.

On the last day of the course there was an open forum which dealt with current issues in the Armenian Church.  Topics brought up by students were: the Church mission, national vs. religious mission of the Church; celibacy; shortage of clergy; language of the Church, (classical vs. modern); effects of the Genocide on the Church; and administration of the Church, the U.S. as a case example.  All topics were interesting and led to full participation among all students.

The most interesting point raised was the problem facing the Apostolic Church due to the lack of clergy.  This dates back to the 1915 Armenian Genocide, during which, according to Window (Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group, Sept. 1990), 1,054 Apostolic clergymen were victimized.  Of those 1,054 clergymen, 84.2% were massacred, leaving only 47 priests available to lead Armenians in spiritual guidance.

Another major reason for the scarcity of Armenian clergy is the fact that following the Genocide, Armenia was absorbed by the Soviet Union, which only allowed religion to exist at an extremely minimal level of activity.  As a Soviet Republic, Armenia was unable to produce a substantial amount of clergy at Etchmiadzin for 70 years because religion was contrary to the communist philosophy.

During the Soviet era belief in any religion was discouraged, churches were closed, and the Apostolic faith was basically maintained within the family.  Armenians living in the Soviet Union were not only deprived of religious education and from attending church, but were also discouraged from having their children baptized.  Therefore Armenians were never formally educated in the Armenian Apostolic faith, and were ignorant about Christianity. The result of communism’s persecution of religion has been the weakening of the Church, which has led to the present invasion of Armenia by religious sects and cults.

These religious groups, which have no reason for being in Armenia, have moved in and established an evangelizing foothold among the population.  Another reason for the establishment of different religious sects and cults in Armenia is a result of the poor economic conditions which plague the country.  These sects offer security, money, and hope during a time filled with hardship and struggle.

The Apostolic Church within the Armenian Republic and the Diaspora have suffered considerably because of this situation.  A good example of the problem that is faced today by the Church is evident by the ratio of clergy to parishioners in the Diaspora.  According to Window, the 1990 ratio in Los Angeles is 1 clergyman to every 10,000 faithful.  Another example is that in the San Joaquin Valley there are only four full-time clergymen attempting to satisfy the religious needs of an Armenian community of 40,000.

Therefore, many Armenian Americans are living without adequate spiritual guidance from the Apostolic Church, and are searching for inspiration from other Protestant denominations and religious sects.

Because of the genocide’s disastrous ramifications and the fall of the first  Armenian Republic to communism, Armenians throughout the world lost a pivotal cornerstone in the traditional Armenian way of life that served as the unifying factor for Armenians.  The lack of clerical manpower to provide for the religious needs of all Armenian communities worldwide has pushed Armenians in search of spiritual fulfillment to look elsewhere in the hope to find security in an otherwise insecure world.

Armenian Studies 120T-The Armenian Church provided an overall history of the Armenian Apostolic Church from its inception in 301 A.D. to its plans to celebrate 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia in 2001 A.D.  The class allowed the Armenians and non-Armenians in attendance to understand the sacred traditions and rituals of the Armenian Church. It also provided a deeper insight into the problems of the Church and sparked ideas for viable solutions.  For both of us, it was a worthwhile weekend spent studying the Armenian Apostolic Church.