97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem installed

By Harry Hagopian
June 11, 2013

On 4 June 2013, many pilgrims, as well as clergy and guests from all corners of the world, filled the rather limited but wondrous space of St James’s Cathedral in order to attend the enthronement of the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Nourhan Manougian was formally installed as successor to the throne of St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem. During the enthronement, he knelt at the altar, recited his pledge of faithfulness to the Lord and his commitment to safeguard the Armenian presence in the Holy Land while seven archbishops also recreated an ancient ceremony by placing their right hands on Archbishop Manougian in order to bestow him with the authority to lead the Armenian See of Jerusalem.

The newly-enthroned patriarch then delivered a short but moving sermon in which he re-iterated his commitment to this challenging ministry as he underlined the humility with which he was accepting his new patriarchal staff of authority.

Here is the sermon of enthronement: http://www.armenianpatriarchateofjerusalem.com/news/qaroz-english.html

Subsequently, letters were read on behalf of HH Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and HH Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, whilst Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the Patriarchal Vicar of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, presented the newly-elected patriarch with a chalice.

As many Armenians - and perhaps some non-Armenians too - know already, the throne of St James dates back to the 17th century and is carved from precious wood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It stands at the original grave of St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, which has since been moved under the main altar of the cathedral. This throne is used only once annually on the Feast of St James.

But who is the new Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem succeeding to the late Archbishop Torkom Manoogian?

Archbishop Nourhan Manougian was officially elected on 24 January 2013 during the 22nd session of the general assembly of St James’s monastic brotherhood. Previously the Grand Sacristan, this multi-lingual man now presides over a small but still vibrant Armenian community in a jurisdiction that covers Palestine, Jordan and Israel. He is a man of determination who can show compassion as much as rise to the challenges that come his way.

I do not know this new patriarch well personally, alas. In fact, and perhaps exceptionally, our paths have hardly ever crossed over those past decades when I have collaborated closely with the patriarchate. However, I am confident he will serve the Armenian community faithfully and his compassion as much as resolve will both come in handy to help him reach out to fellow Armenians and to neighbours alike in a land that has witnessed its share of challenges, hardships and discords.

After all, here is a land made holy in part by the fact that all three monotheistic faiths claim to own it - or at least part of it. It is also where the overall numbers of Christian - including Armenians - have been diminishing inexorably ever since the early 1900s. Moreover, here is a small parcel of land that has been struggling with an invidious and illegal occupation since 1967 and one where religious radicalism and exclusivist tendencies of all sorts have clearly been on the rise. So whether on political, ecumenical, economic or merely Armenian grounds, the new patriarch has his work cut out for him.

Today, all I would wish to do as an Armenian layperson who hails from the same jurisdiction, and as a proud Ekklesia associate, is to hope - humbly but also expectantly - that Archbishop Nourhan will shepherd the Armenian community that has been in the Holy Land for long centuries and that traces its roots in some measure to the victims of the Armenian genocide during WWI who fled to Palestine and were welcomed with traditional hospitality by its Muslim and Christian Arab communities.

The new patriarch invoked the prophet Isaiah in his sermon. This is a land that has welcomed, nurtured and certainly maligned many prophets - whether authentic or false. So let me not think of prophets old or new today but exhort the new patriarch to be a reform-minded ally of the truth as he labours in the vineyard of the Lord and let me simply add in Armenian, Shnorhavor ella, badriark hayr - or a nakedly prayerful “good luck” in English too!

© 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: @harryhagopian

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