Armenian Jerusalem
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian

The golden threads of the sun rappel through the high

windows and entwine the velvet mists of incense floating in

the air, before settling on the forms of the three figures

kneeling before the cross and the bible.    The candles on

the resplendent altar flare as if in joy at the mysterious

age-old ceremony being enacted before them.

         Their   heads   bowed   in   obedience,   the   three   young   men   prepare   to   take their   final   vows   as   newly   ordained   members   of   the   priestly   brotherhood of the Armenian Patriarchate of St James in Jerusalem.          They   have   renounced   the   world   and   its   enticements   to   dedicate   their lives   to   God   and   their   services   to   the Armenian Apostolic   Church.   In   their new   roles,   they   will   become   teachers   and   shepherds   and   provide   for   the spiritual   needs   of   their   flock   in   the   holy   city   of   Jerusalem   or   in   any   other part of the world where Armenians have a church.             Their    guide    and    mentor    is   Archbishop   Aris    Shirvanian,    who    until recently   had   been   serving   the   church   in   the   US,   but   has   been   recalled   to   Jerusalem   to   act   as the patriarchate's director of ecumenical and foreign relations.          Shirvanian   stands   by   their   side   to   encourage   and   support   as   the   Grand   Sacristan   of   the patriarchate,   Archbishop   Nourhan   Manoogian,   leads   them   in   prayer   and   lays   his   hands   upon their head in manumission.          Across   the   nave,   seated   in   the   historic   throne   of   St   James,   patriarch   Torkom   Manoogian observes   the   ceremony   with   silent   and   delightful   gratification. This   is   one   of   the   highlights   of his   mission   as   head   of   the Armenian   church   in   the   Holy   Land   ever   since   his   election   17   years ago.          The   church   is   packed   and   as   the   young   men   don   their   cowls,   symbols   of   their   new   status   as celibate priests, there is an audible sigh of awe from the jubilant congregation.          The   new   priests   the   Armenian   Patriarchate   of   Jerusalem   has   just   ordained   will   bolster   the ranks of the Brotherhood of St James, infusing its ranks with much needed new blood.          The   three   men,   Avedik   Alekyan,   Pavel   Tavtyan,   and   Arthur   Paloyan,   all   in   their   20's,   who have   completed   their   theological   studies   at   the   patriarchate's   seminary,   will   henceforth   be known as Father Vazken, Yeghishe and Shnork. `   All   three   are   serious   and   faithful   servants   of   the   Lord   and   will   be   a   great   asset   of   the Armenian Apostolic Church,' Shirvanian told this correspondent.          They   will   not   only   augment   the   number   of   the   Brotherhood   members,   but   also   reinvigorate its   ranks   and   make   the   monumental   and   far-flung   task   of   the   patriarchate   a   little   easier, according to Shirvanian.          Their   ordination   comes   at   a   critical   juncture   for   the   Armenian   church   in   the   Holy   Land. Attrition,   due   either   to   natural   causes   or   overseas   postings,   has   been   taking   a   heavy   toll among   the   Brotherhood,   and   replacing   lost   members,   among   them   some   of   the   church's   most illustrious, has not been easy.          Ever   since   its   establishment,   the   Holy   See   of   Jerusalem   has   been   the   principal   fount   of spiritual   manpower   catering   to   the   needs   of   the   Armenian   church   in   the   diaspora.   Almost every   single   diocese   overseas   that   belongs   to   the   Mother   church   in   Armenia   is   staffed   by priests ordained in Jerusalem.          One   of   the   most   magnificent   religious   edifices   in   the   entire   Middle   East,   the   Cathedral   of   St James   has   long   been   a   lodestone   for   holy   order   aspirants.   Some   of   them   have   been   non- Armenians,   inspired   by   the   teachings   and   example   of   Gregory   the   Illuminator.   Shirvanian   is hopeful   that   the   current   attrition   trend   can   be   reversed.   He   told   this   correspondent   he   has high hopes for the future.   `I expect a good crop to be harvested in the foreseeable future from our seminary,' he said. With    five    new    deacons,    Samuel    Safaryan,    Ararat    Zargaryan,    Narek    Mkrtchyan,    Pavel Karapetyan   and   Sahak   Hovakimyan,   aged   19-22,   currently   being   groomed   for   priesthood   and expected to graduate next year, his hopes are based on firm ground.             The   Jerusalem   theological   seminary,   a   gift   of   American   Armenian   philanthropist   Alex Manoogian,   has   graduated   a   score   of   priests   ever   since   its   inception.   It   is   sited   just   outside the   walls   of   the   convent   of   St   James,   and   has   been   built   on   the   site   of   the   encampment   of the   Xth   Legion   of   Rome   that   conquered   the   Jewish   stronghold   of   Masada   near   the   Dead   Sea. It replaces the beautiful structure inside the convent that has been ravaged by old age.          The   seminary,   with   Father   Theodoros   Zakaryan   as   its   dean,   boasts   among   its   faculty,   some of the Armenian world's most respected educators.    `All our classes (five secondary and three theological faculties) are full,' Shirvanian noted. `Currently   we   have   30   students,   27   from   Armenia   and   three   from   Turkey,   and   we   expect   10 more new applicants from Armenia,' he said.          Over   the   past   several   years,   the   usual   candidate   pipeline   from   the   Arab   world   dried   up   in the   wake   of   the   political   turmoil   in   the   Middle   East,   and   was   replaced   by   a   stead   influx   from the Motherland.          The   new   additions   to   the   ranks   of   the   Brotherhood   of   St   James   will   boost   the   number   of   its members in the Holy Land to 20.          Of   these,   12   are   from   Lebanon,   Syria   and   Turkey,   and   the   rest,   like   the   three   new   priests, come from Armenia.          In   addition,   there   are   another   7   archbishops   and   10   celibate   priests   serving   in   the diasporan dioceses belonging to the Mother church. I         n   keeping   with   a   tradition   initiated   by   Jesus   himself,   the   new   priests   will   spend   a   forty   day period   of   prayer   and   fasting   in   the   Armenian   convent   of   Bethlehem,   preparing   to   take   on their new vocation.
Brotherhood of St James