The Armenian Church in Britain and Ireland has been celebrating its new bishop over the second weekend in November.
The Very Rev Fr Vahan Hovhanessian, who was elected Primate of the Armenian Church on 14 December 2009, has now become The Rt Rev Dr Vahan Hovhanessian, Bishop of the Armenian Church, following his Episcopal ordination by HH Catholicos Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia on 6 November 2011.
Since then, and on Sunday, 20 November 2011, the newly-ordained bishop also celebrated his first Badarak or Holy Divine Liturgy at St Yeghishé Armenian Church in London.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest national church. Part of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, it is one of the ancient Christian communities with a continuing, living presence in the 21st century.
Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity officially, in 301 CE. The Armenian Church traces its origins to the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century.
There has been an Armenian presence in the UK since the 18th century. There are up to 18,000 ethnic Armenians including those who are British-born and of part Armenian descent, living in Britain at present.
By way of personal introduction and reflection, Dr Harry Hagopian writes:
Born in Baghdad almost five decades ago, Bishop Vahan received his BA in Electrical Engineering from Iraq. He later pursued his graduate studies in Theology at St Nerses’ Armenian Seminary and at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. His Master of Divinity from St Vladimir was titled “The Council of Shahabivan 445AD: Introduction, Translation and Commentary.” He later continued with his doctoral studies in Scriptures at the Jesuitical Fordham University in New York and successfully defended his thesis titled “Third Corinthians: Reclaiming Paul for Orthodox Christianity”.
Bishop Vahan is also the author of numerous articles and books in the fields of biblical studies, theology and Armenian Church history. His publications include In Remembrance of the Lord: Biblical Introduction, Historical Review and Contemporary Commentary (2008) as well as Exegesis and Hermeneutics in the Churches of the East (2009) and The Old Testament As Authoritative Scripture in the Churches of the East (2010).
I personally had never met Bishop Vahan prior to his arrival in London, nor had I even heard of him. So what I witnessed personally at the initial stages of his presence in our midst as pastor of the Armenian Church was a man with a robustly confident faith, a dogged determination to serve the church in its authentic definition of an assembly of believers (rather than just of long traditions and few buildings) and an ability to strengthen the institutions that define the Armenian ethos within the UK & Ireland.
In fact, there was suddenly so much church activity in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff or Dublin that I often joked with Fr Vahan (then) as much as with my own friends or colleagues that he is kicking up so much dust in such a short time! And for an ancient institution such as the Armenian Church, when coupled with its sedentary and almost self-defining approach to matters of faith in many instances, there was certainly a lot of dust swirling about!
Almost two years into his arrival to London, and his subsequent ordination a couple of weeks ago, I tend to believe that Bishop Vahan should apply his abundant Christocentric energies toward further strengthening the church as a visible manifestation of the Mystery of the Incarnation and as a relevant living and engaging presence in the lives of Armenians in the UK & Ireland. Moreover, and perhaps crucially, I strongly believe that Bishop Vahan should continue the leading and quintessential legacy of his predecessor Bishop Nathan by reaching out to the other churches and cementing the ecumenical role that the Armenian Church plays today in the life, presence and witness of Christians at the WCC in Geneva and across all continents.
The Armenian Christian faith is neither insular nor torpid; it reaches out to share the Evangelos or the Good News. But this is done neither by compulsion nor by an archaic sense of tradition or institutionalised inheritance that focuses on rituals and sidesteps the real message! After all, ‘For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them' (Mt 18:20).
Rather, this outreach both within (critically) and without (essentially) should be done by applying the one and only power - often very sorely wanting - that defines the Church of Christ. Have you second-guessed me already? I am of course referring to the power of love as the determining tenet of Christ’s teachings that is abundantly clear in, say, St Luke’s Gospel and one that sits comfortably alongside the more exalted fundamentals of faith and hope.
So Serpazan Hayr is no longer a Hayr Sourp and I wish him well … In fact, I have often found myself in the past reflecting upon First and Second Timothy. St Paul's warmth as he wrote those two epistles encourages me, just as his exhortations to his protégé Timothy challenge me, and his example of sacrificing all for the Gospel humbles me. No wonder my mind keeps returning to St Paul's last words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness ...” (2 Tim 4.7-8).
To cross necessary bridges, one must at times tread on some delicate marshlands. Besides, and to paraphrase loosely Lord Tennyson in his Ulysses, Christians should not rust unburnished but rather shine in use. And in terms of faith, all of that requires prayer, meditation, reflection, discipline, perseverance, humility and … again … love for the other.
* Diocese of the Armenian Church of Great Britain: http://www.armenianchurch.co.uk/
The obiter dictum is © Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK) and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net