KEYNOTE ADDRESS TO THE
NATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE ASSEMBLY
BY ARCHBISHOP OSHAGAN CHOLOYAN, PRELATE
ALL SAINTS ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH
MAY 7-9, 2009
Dear Clergy Brothers,
Honored Guests, and
I feel it is my heartfelt duty to extend to this august body the blessings, loving greetings, and best wishes for a successful Assembly expressed by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
On the occasion of the National Representative Assembly of the Eastern Prelacy, I welcome all of you with a heart filled with thanksgiving, Christian faith, and fatherly blessings. Our heartfelt prayer is that in the coming days our sessions will be fruitful, helpful and constructive, as we examine last year’s achievements and prepare the agenda for next year.
We have special and loving words of appreciation from our Religious and Executive Councils, to the pastor of All Saints Armenian Church, Archpriest Fr. Zareh Sahagian, the Board of Trustees, affiliated and sister organizations, whose hospitality we are enjoying in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, so that both our general assembly and our social gatherings will be conducted in an orderly and constructive fashion. We extend our loving blessings to the faithful parishioners of All Saints Armenian Church, whose faith and dedication toward our Church is an example and encouragement for us.
Last year we celebrated the 110th anniversary of the official establishment of the Armenian Church in America, and the 50th anniversary of our Prelacy under the jurisdiction of the Great House of Cilicia. The Holy See of Cilicia had a providential role for the faithful of the Eastern Prelacy. Having already functional churches, and with the thought of having a central authority and agenda, in 1957 they officially petitioned for a Prelate and 2
Prelacy, so that our national and ecclesiastical life could find its exact direction and to cultivate the true service to its rightful mission. We are not going to re-visit those days of dissention, issues, misunderstandings, and perceptions. One thing was, and is, clear. The Armenian Church’s mission is only the advancement of our Church, the fulfillment of our national aspirations and dreams, the protection of the sanctity of our national and family traditions, to which the Great House of Cilicia and her dioceses remained faithful, in spite of the Genocide and the new circumstances created in its aftermath. We celebrated the 50th anniversary with that understanding, with an open heart and with pride, explaining our achievements and our understanding.
We have the same understanding today and we feel proud of the loyalty of our Prelacy, and our faithful people and communities.
In spite of our transparent and sincere behavior and moderation in our approach, just as in the past, our 50th anniversary commemoration during the year was not looked upon as being a service to our Church, especially for the protection and strengthening of our national identity. Similar approaches are not foreign to us. Twenty-five years of failure in negotiations and attempts at rapprochement resulted in the formation of our Prelacy, under the auspices of the Holy See of Cilicia. Just as the Cilician Catholicosate is faithful and always remains so for our church and people, so also our mutual faithfulness gives strength and inspiration for the continuation of our mission for the advancement of our Church and our people’s growth. Our Prelacy’s independence should not be looked upon as opposing, contrarian, or as a duality. Our separate entity serves the advancement of the one and the same church, the strengthening of the one and same nation and fatherland. This is the democratic understanding and spirit, because for all faithful Armenians, their true home is our Church, and their loving and desired meeting place is united Armenia.
As we reach the next 50th anniversary, which in reality is the continuation of our course and creed, I want to take up a series of points, which put an obligation on all of us—on all Armenians—so that we can see our future with greater understanding, realistically and with the consideration of Pan-Armenian benefits.
1. In our history the concept of a Diaspora comes from ancient times. Beginning in the 11th century, because of persecution and political reasons, 3
our people were forced to frequently leave their homeland and settle on foreign soil. The communities in the Crimea, Cilicia, Poland, and Persia were formed through forced migration. Glory to those communities who with their dedication and faithfulness towards their national and ecclesiastical heritage and values, protected their existence, were better organized and more advanced. Among these countries, Cilicia developed so much that the princely dynasties in their political pursuit founded an independent Armenian kingdom where the Catholicosate of All Armenia, which in its role in literary/theological works and unique achievements in the arts, formed the Silver Century, following the Golden Century created by St. Mesrob Mashdotz.
But it was totally different from the widespread dispersion of the communities after the Genocide of 1915. It is true that the previous communities were formed as a result of persecution and coercion. However, the Genocide had taken place in which mass killings, forced deportations, with the intent of annihilating an entire nation, exterminated a population from its mother land.
The community in America was formed as a result of inhuman atrocities and persecutions. After the massacres by Sultan Hamid, the massacres in Sassoon and Cilicia, and especially after the 1915 Genocide, America became a Diaspora community like the other communities all over the world where the children of our nation experienced first the terror and awe of the Genocide and then they organized themselves, became stronger and were comforted by the hope and vision of new dawns. The national feeling was not something that was expressed through articles in newspapers or speeches given during celebrations. The nation with its history, its values, culture, and the struggle for our rights, was a predominant sentiment. Free Armenia, historical Armenia, was their dream, and their pursuit of rights the legacy of the martyrs.
Our people, faithful to their feelings, political achievements, and pursuit of their just cause, until today strongly support the pan-Armenian efforts. Today, perhaps, our situation is more complex. The "so-called" politics pushes us this or that way, which may be the nature of politics, but under no circumstance should we stray from our creed or from our demands, which are much higher than inter-governmental calculations, more noble, and the cry of our blood and soul. The pages of our pursuit of our rights are written in blood. 4
The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, and its faithful people, feel "on their skin" the immeasurable human loss, the land loss, and cultural loss. In our Diasporan life it has remained the faithful servant and the guardian of the legacy of our martyrs. With this understanding, it became our first pursuer and educator with its faithful and supportive people and organizations in widespread communities. The blood of our Fatherland, mixed with blood and sweat, was never, under any circumstance, exchanged with other considerations. At the same time the Catholicosate believed that we must search and find ways to strengthen our government in Armenia, to keep the dignity and honor of our people high, undefiled, and worthy.
Our endeavor is heavy. Our road is long, but our faith is unshakeable and our hope is brighter.
As a Prelacy under the Cilician See we must remain faithful against the faithfulness of the Catholicosate and our people, and spare no effort, and never weaken in our devotion and sacrifice.
2. For the sake of the rights of our nation it is necessary for us to strengthen our national identity with national and Christian spirit and with democratic principles. This identity is not a simple or ordinary expression of comprehending and admitting other points of view. Nations have built their identity through joint achievements, defending the Fatherland, martyrdom, and through various ways of cultural expression and creativity. To have this national wealth, does not necessarily depend on having a strong country, with millions of people, or the ability to economically oppress others. Quite often, and certainly in the case of the Armenian people, our nation’s struggle is within us, almost instinctively immediate, and who have defended themselves by cultural and artistic creativity. Not by barely existing, but by "creative work," putting themselves on the level of civilized and advanced nations. Our identity is clear and true and has resounded for centuries on the pages of history by our heroism and even martyrdom. In other words, as the historian Yeghishe said in the 5th century about our faith, it can be said today of our identity that it is the "color of our skin," especially when we easily identify our national nature, feeling and understanding with Christian moral principles.
Protecting our national identity is imperative in the present world, wherever we are. Undoubtedly we praise the attraction of foreign power, 5
with its advanced culture, and its political skill. The mighty are worthy of that honor and respect. However, recognizing, appreciating and adopting should not be confused with a person’s or a nation’s abilities and identity, and sacrifice what is ours for the sake of other values.
We belong to the Armenian nation and Armenian Church. Our identity is usually molded by our families, churches, schools, centers, and by our national and religious education. This belonging remains brilliant when we become more intimately familiar with our history—church and nation—our unique situations, administrative structure, law and order, traditions and habits, and when we apply them in the right and proper way. All this should be cause and result at the same time. Our Prelacy was organized for the appreciation and for securing the continuation of these values. The national values became our nature for existence and for more advancement. Language, faith, Fatherland, school, were the greatest wealth for us. In order to protect them it was necessary to have conviction and inner fire so that not to sacrifice them for this or that new situation and condition. And we succeeded. We started as a national ecclesiastical structure. We continued living with these that are a precious richness and the heritage and legacy of our forefathers and land.
3. The year 2009 was declared as the Year of the Youth by His Holiness Aram I. In his message His Holiness clearly expresses his expectations from the Armenian youth hoping that the youth will make worthy their Armenianism by the healthy formation of their spiritual and intellectual life, harmonizing and balancing the national and international, and considering to remain Armenian as an everyday struggle. In order to become and practice all these, His Holiness clarifies also the means which are not anything but faithfulness, participation, renewal and vision. When we welcome the Armenian youth with these convictions I am confident that our life flows smoothly and becomes more productive. On the other hand, lack of knowledge of the law and order of our national and ecclesiastical life, and when we cannot differentiate personal life and collective life, and we confuse them, may be the reasons for misunderstandings which do not help the healthy and constructive flow of our national life. For this reason it is important to grow in our church, in our centers, in our organizations, so that enriched by experience we may become helpful to our church and establishments, spreading smooth action and intimate mutual understanding to our surroundings. It is clear that we want the young and lively faithful to carry on a role and show vitality in their work, but at the same time being careful not to hurt our national and ecclesiastical understanding, traditions 6
and way of work which has a foundation centuries old and which has put a definitive seal on the Armenian identity and belonging, for the sake of practicality and modernity. We commend highly the ambition of our young generation and congratulate them every time when they brighten our ecclesiastical and organizational Armenian life in general in this blessed land of America through their useful and constructive thoughts, planning and work.
As a Prelacy, this is our mission—the preparation of good citizens and good Armenians in order to become stronger, enriching our multiple and different needs. It is a collective work that we feel requires the positive and constructive participation, solidarity, understanding and behavior of our communities for our success.
We exist just for this reason and we are here to think, to plan, and to work together.
Let us move forward to success.