The Armenian church in Jerusalem is perched on the verge of a new era following the election today of its new Patriarch, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, the 97th in a direct line of succession from Abraham, the first patriarch of the Holy City.
Abraham was a contemporary of the Arab Caliph, Omar ibnul Khattab, who conquered Jerusalem, and held office from 638 to 669 CE. He is buried within a few feet of the entrance to the ornate cathedral of St James, where the new incumbent was led in a solemn, jubilant procession in an age-old church ceremony, by his fellow priests, members of the Brotherhood of St James.
They had come from various parts of the world to cast their votes for the man they considered most fit to inherit the mantle of St James.
After two days of prayer, deliberations and soul-searching, and the narrowing of the field to two contenders, the enclave invested the future of the 2000 year old Armenian presence in Jerusalem, into the hands of one of the church's most charismatic figures.
Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian, who until his election had been the Patriarchate's Grand Sacristan, will succeed the late patriarch, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian (no relation) who passed away last year.
Armenians all over the world regard Jerusalem as their second most significant and profound fount of spiritual rejuvenation and reinforcement, and its patriarchs have traditionally held more sway in universal church affairs than the relatively small number of their fold merited.
The Armenian Patriarch's role in Jerusalem is two-fold, to act as a shepherd for their fold and at the same time take on the role of one of the three main Guardians of the Holy Places. (The other two Guardians are the Greek Orthodox church and the Latin Franciscan Custodia).
Manoogian, who was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1948. Endowed with an imposing demeanour, a no-nonsense attitude and a determination to face down threats to the Armenian presence in this city, Manoogian carries the good wishes of many.
In the process, it is hoped he will bring a strong measure of stability to an institution that has seen more than its share of turbulence in recent years.
© 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