In an unprecedented and tersely-worded letter, Jerusalem Patriarch Archbishop Nourhan Manougian criticizes His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, urging him to reinforce the Armenian Church’s “spiritual foundations,” which the Patriarch says have been waning.
The letter comes as a protest of recent events in the France Diocese, which prompted the resignation early last month of the popular Primate of France Archbishop Norvan Zakarian, which has created across-the-board and collective outrage from the French-Armenian community.
In the letter, Manougian tells the Catholicos that the protest was triggered by the Supreme Spiritual Council’s decision to accept Zakarian’s resignation, despite his years of service to the church, adherence to the gospel, and overall service to the community.(*)
Zakarian resigned his post as French Primate, after alleging that the Catholicos had demanded that he re-instate the parish priest of the Armenian Church in Nice, Father Vatché Ghazanchyan,(**) who was under criminal investigation by the French authorities and was ordered to serve a two-year suspended sentence for allegedly beating a man.(***) Ghazanchyan’s alleged business dealings in France have long been an issue of concern for the French-Armenian community, especially the community in Nice.
Zakarian said his resignation was prompted by an incident on June 29 at the VIP lounge of Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, where the Catholicos, in the presence of Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, Armenia’s Ambassador to France Vigen Tchitetchian and other religious and secular leaders of France, threatened the archbishop by saying: “If by July 1 you don’t reinstate him [Father Vatché Ghazanchyan] to his position, then you have no business with the Mother See.” (****)
Zakarian’s resignation has provoked anger in the French Armenian community, and statements of protest have been issued by a number of organizations including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s France Central Committee and the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations in France—the ANC of France.(*****)
“I would like to say in brotherly terms, that a threat is not becoming of a clergyman, especially a high-ranking one—the ‘Supreme Patriarch of all Armenians,’ from whom it is expected, as the genuine FATHER and forgiving SUPERIOR, to relate with love and forgiving spirit with his children or with his subordinates,” said Arch. Manougian in his protest letter.(******)
The Jerusalem Patriarch argued that Zakarian’s term was to have ended in November and suggested that the Supreme Spiritual Council should have waited until then to “accept” his resignation.
“Do you truly want to eradicate your reputation as the ‘Constructive Catholicos’ by extending the number of clerics you have defrocked?” asked Arch. Manougian. “What has occurred was unacceptable and a great injustice coming from Holy Etchmiadzin, from the Armenian people’s Holiness of the Holy.”
“Your Holiness, do you recall, a few years back, when with great pride – and justly so – you were showing me the beautiful buildings You had erected within the campus of the Mother See? I said to You that equal to and more important than physical buildings is reinforcing the spiritual foundation; and You reassured me that this would also happen,” said Manougian.
“Nevertheless, the time has come to establish that it is the superficial and the material elements that are important and interesting to You,” added the Patriarch.
Arch. Manougian went on to recall an incident when the Catholicos was attempting to pressure the late Patriarch Torkom Manoogian to appoint Archbishop Aris Shirvanian as his “successor.” When the late Patriarch refused and Arch. Shirvanian informed the Catholicos that such a provision did not exist in the by-laws of the Church and the Patriarchate, the Catholicos Karekin II, according to the Patriarch, said: “I will strip all of you of your ranks.” (*******)
Citing the current climate within the Armenian Church and the issues he has set forth in the letter, Patriarch Manougian informed the Catholicos that he would not attend a meeting of Diocesan clerics in Etchmiadzin, scheduled to take place in September.(********)
"Asbarez," August 6, 2013
Notes by "Armeniaca"
(*) The Supreme Spiritual Council held its meeting on July 30-31. The letter of Patriarch Manougian is dated August 3, 2013
(**) According to Archbishop Zakarian's July 1, 2013 letter to the Catholicos of All Armenians, the last name of the priest is actually Hayrapetian.
(***) The sentence, including the use of an electronic surveillance bracelet and the prohibition to set foot in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, including Nice, for two years, was issued on July 2, 2013.
(****) This is the quotation of Patriarch Manougian letter. The actual quotation, according to Archbishop Zakarian's abovementioned July 1, 2013 letter, is: «Եթէ, Տէր Վաչէ Քահանայ Հայրապետեանը մինչեւ 1 Յուլիս 2013 չազատէք պահակութեան պաշտօնէն եւ թէ Թեմը ամսական չտայ անոր, Մայր Աթոռի հետ դու գործ չունես այլեւս» ("If you don't liberate Fr. Vatché Hayrapetian from his position of custodian until July 1, 2013 and the Diocese doen't give him a salary, you have nothing to do with the Holy See anymore"). Fr. Hayrapetian, reportedly, was working as a priest in Strasbourg and supplied his salary with custodial work.
(*****) The CCAF (Conseil de Coordination des Organisations Armeniennes de France; Co-ordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France, according to its English self-denomination) "is the representative body of the French-Armenian Community. It unites the major political, cultural, educational, religious and social organisations of the Armenian community" (see the website of the organization). The "ANC of France" is logically not the CCAF, but the Comite de Defense de la Cause Armenienne
(******) The capitals are by Patriarch Manougian.
(*******) The letter actually says: «Իսկ երբ երկու տարի առաջ երբ փորձած էիք մեր ապառողջ Թորգոմ պատրիարքը համոզել, որ "աթոռակից" մը ընտրէր եւ ան մերժած էր ձեր առաջարկը, ետքը Դուք Արիս արք. Շիրվանեանին, որ ըսած էր Ձեզի. «Մենք մեր կանոնադրութեան մէջ այդպիսի յօդուած չունէինք, որուն Ձեր կատարած սպառնալիքը եղած է (...)» ("And when two years ago you tried to convince our Patriarch Torkom, because of his poor health, to designate a 'coadjutor' and he had rejected your proposal, then your menace to Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, who had told you that 'We didn't have such an article in our bylaws,' was [...]"). Therefore, the mistranslation has created the false impression that the Catholicos tried to impose Archbishop Shirvanian as "successor," when actually His Holiness was talking about a "coadjutor" (աթոռակից), and Patriarch Manougian doesn't discuss any such name in the letter.
(********) The forthcoming meeting, from September 21-28, is not of "Diocesan clerics," but a general meeting of bishops and archbishops (Եպիսկոպոսական Ժողով) of the entire Armenian Church.