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As many church leaders, organisations and individuals have learnt already, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian was elected earlier today (24 January 2013) as the 97th patriarch of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land (Jordan, Israel and Palestine).
The Grand Sacristan (or Lousararabed in Armenian) of the Church for many years, Archbishop Nourhan succeeds the late Torkom II who established a name for himself as a cautious reformer and an ecumenical leader and who also helped mentor my own Oslo-led political years in Jerusalem well over a decade ago.
Armenians are a tiny community, and are part of an ever-shrinking Christian presence across the Holy Land let alone the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Yet they are by no means an insular community that ghettoises itself in its own Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. Rather, they are a vibrant part of a much larger and more diverse society and can be found in Jerusalem and Bethlehem just as they can be found in Ramallah, Amman and Haifa too.
The patriarch-elect will not only be the shepherd of his own community and the steward of its rights - in themselves onerous responsibilities - but the Armenian Church is also one of the three churches that oversee the Status Quo arrangements in Jerusalem that date back to Ottoman times as they affect the religious shrines of this biblical land - and most notably the Church of the Resurrection (or Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
It often seems bizarre for many Western minds that Armenians place such hullabaloo on the election of their church hierarchs. I agree that it goes against the grain somewhat, and more so from our own Western perspective where God and Caesar are kept deliberately - and at times constitutionally - apart. Perhaps we interpret the prophetic fire of our faith differently.
However, the Middle East and North Africa region also enjoys a rich but somewhat different culture whereby each community still looks generally at its religious leaders for guidance and support - no more so than in those difficult moments facing the whole region where mounting violence and discrimination or economic hardships are together challenging the quest for dignity and citizenry.
So even though this ‘coming round’ a church leader is gradually diminishing in this part of the world too, I believe that it is still part of the intuitive and cultural genes of its inhabitants and one of the prisms that many Christians, Muslims and Jews use in their daily interplay with each other and with their neighbours - consciously or perhaps even unconsciously.
In the past year, the Middle East and North Africa region has witnessed the election of new patriarchs for the Maronite Catholic, Coptic Orthodox and Antiochian Greek Orthodox Churches. Now Armenians in the Holy Land have a new leader too - a man who is full of vim, conviction and wit and who is manifestly unafraid to meet the challenges of the day. No doubt he will need all those traits as he faces the daunting challenges of office at a time of uncertainty, concern and even fear.
This is not a day for prolix reflections or over-the-top statements. So I simply join the Members of the St James Brotherhood who elected the new patriarch, many other Armenians from Israel, Palestine and Jordan and elsewhere as well as ecumenical leaders or friends worldwide in praying for the patriarch-elect. May his ministry be undergirded let alone enriched by the three fundaments of faith, love and hope. And given our history, we Armenians also cannot ignore the age-long maxim that ‘Unity applies for essentials, Liberty for doubtful matters and Charity for all things’.
Serpazan hayr, shnorhavor ella ays or-e mer polorin - may this day be a blessed and joyous day for us all.
© 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), Ecumenical consultant to the Primate of Armenian Church in UK & Ireland, and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net Follow him on Twitter here: @harryhagopianTweet