The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem has begun one of the most momentous events in the 2,000 year-old history of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land.
Members of the priestly Brotherhood of St James have cast their crucial votes in the first round of elections for a successor to the throne of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The first day's voting has now narrowed down the field of contenders to five, with the current Grand Sacristan of the Patriarchate, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, in the lead with 21 votes in his favour.
Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, the Patriarchate's Director of Ecumenical Affairs, and the second favorite, has receded down the list with 16 votes.
But the Dioceses of the Armenian Church in South America seemed to have garnered a hefty chunk of voting confidence, putting in a strong performance with Archbishop Datev Gharibian, the Primate of the church in Brazil, a close second with 18 votes.
Gharibian was born in 1937 in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, ordained a priest in 1963 and elevated to the rank of bishop in 1984.
The relatively younger Archbishop Kissag Mouradian, Primate of Argentina, and a compatriot of Gharibian, gained 15 votes. He was born in 1951, ordained at the age of 20, and consecrated bishop in 1990.
The fifth nominee, with the same number of votes, was Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, who is in charge of the financial bureau of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.
The second round of voting, which will culminate in the election of Jerusalem's 97th Armenian Patriarchate, will take place on 24 January.
Under the rules and regulations of the Patriarchate, any member of the Priestly Brotherhood of St James, that is, priests ordained in Jerusalem, would be eligible for election. But in practical terms, the incumbent is chosen from among the ranks of the highest - the archbishops - of the Armenian church.
The total number of Armenian archbishops who were ordained priests by the Jerusalem Patriarchate today stands at eight, three of them based in Jerusalem, and the remaining five ministering to the needs of Armenian congregations in the diaspora.
Armenians all around the world have been watching developments in Jerusalem with interest and anxiety.
The Armenian church in the Holy City, insiders say, has been forced to wade through the morass of debilitating challenges in recent years, and needs the strength and endurance to maintain its stature and standing, not only as the second most vital font of spiritual rejuvenation after the Mother Church in Armenia, but also as one of the three Guardians of the Holy Places.
Today and tomorrow "will be two important dates not only for the new person succeeding Patriarch Torkom II and leading the church in the Holy Land but equally importantly for the Armenians still living and witnessing in those biblical and also historical lands," says one of the leading commentators of the Middle East religious scene, Dr Harry Hagopian, Ecumenical, Legal and Political Consultant to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The late patriarch, Manoogian, has been known as a reformer and a moderniser, a man of vision - although not all his dreams were realised. One of his grand designs was the construction of a hostel for Armenian pilgrims and tourists, another was a residential project that never got off the drawing board.
© Arthur Hagopian is a writer and journalist currently based in Australia. He has worked for the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Also on Ekklesia: 'A new Armenian Patriarch in Jerusalem: what does it mean?', by Dr Harry Hagopian - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17871