Armenian Jerusalem

Jerusalem, city of gold, city of hope. For nearly two

thousand years, this has been the spiritual home of the

world's three great monotheistic religions: Judaism,

Christianity, Islam. No other place on earth evokes

stronger passions or more fervent hopes than this tiny

city. It has been called the most sacred spot on earth.

Few people would refute that.

       The   city   has   been   home   for   a   vibrant   community   of   Armenians   for over   one   and   a   half   thousand   years.   In   fact, Armenians   have   been   living here   continuously   ever   since   the   beginning   of   the   4th   Century   CE.   In 301    AD,    Armenia    declared    Christianity    its    state    religion    and    soon afterwards   Armenian   pilgrims   began   trekking   to   the   Holy   Land   on   a spiritual   journey   that   would   rejuvenate   their   faith   and   reinforce   their commitment to the new religion of peace and love.         A    large    number    of    the    Armenian    pilgrims    chose    to    remain    in Jerusalem   and   it   became   their   new   home.   They   built   houses,   churches and   convents   some   of   which   are   no   longer   standing,   and   settled   in what   is   now   the   Armenian   Compound,   which   comprises   the   Armenian Quarter   and   the   Convent   of   St   James.   This   became   in   time,   the   largest single   concentration   of   Armenians,   and   represented   the   demographic and spiritual core of the newly-established colony.        The   Compound   occupies   nearly   one-sixth   of   the   total   area   of   the Old   City   of   Jerusalem.   The   Convent   forms   the   core   of   the   Armenian presence, with the Armenian Quarter running around its perimeter.        As   one   treads   the   cobblestoned   alleys   of   the   convent,   one   is   taken back,   more   than   a   thousand   years   into   the   distant,   idyllic   past   of   our forefathers     who     laid     down     the     foundation     stone     of    Armenian Jerusalem, for all generations to come.         The    Armenian    Compound    is    home    for    about    2,000    Armenians. Another   2,000   are   scattered   in   various   other   parts   of   the   Holy   Land.  But    there    was    a    time    when    the   Armenian    presence    in    Jerusalem numbered   25,000-strong.   That   was   before   the   big   exodus   of   1948   when thousands   emigrated   to   Armenia.   Following   the   Arab-Israeli   war,   many more   left   for   the   West,   to   America,   Canada,   Australia,   to   begin   a   new life    there.    For    half    a    century    now,    the    Armenian    community    in Jerusalem   has   been   steadily   dwindling,   prey   to   a   relentless   attrition that has brought their number drastically down.        Nevertheless,   Armenians   have   continued   to   be   a   dynamic   presence in   the   sacred   city.   The   numerical   factor   is   irrelevant. Armenians   are   in a   unique   situation   in   Jerusalem.   Their   Patriarchate   enjoys   a   semi- diplomatic    status.    It    is    one    of    the    three    major    guardians    of    the Christian    Holy    Places    (the    other    two    are    the    Greek    Orthodox Patriarchate   and   the   Franciscan   Custodian).   Among   these   sites   are   the Church    of    the    Holy    Sepulcher    in    the    Old    City,    the    Church    of    the Ascension   on   the   Mount   of   Olives,   the   Tomb   of   the   Virgin   Mary   in   the Valley of Gethsemane, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.        The   Cathedral   of   St   James   is   the   jewel   in   the   convent's   crown. Described    as    the    most    magnificent    Christian    edifice    in    the    entire Middle   east,   this   unique   church   forms   the   core   of   the   Holy   See   of Jerusalem.        Because   of   its   location   in   the   very   city   where   Christ   lived,   taught and   was   crucified,   the   Jerusalem   Patriarchate   occupies   an   enchanted, almost   mystical   significance   in   the   aspirations   of Armenians   worldwide. While   Holy   Etchmiadzin   remains   the   spiritual   home   of   the   Armenian nation,    Jerusalem    the    Golden    becomes    the    Eucharistic    fount    that rejuvenates and regenerates the soul of the Armenian believer.        As   the   visitor   enters   through   the   huge,   heavy   iron   gate   of   the Convent,   he   comes   face   to   face   with   an   ancient   marble   water   fountain (a   "سبيل"   in   Arabic),   placed   there   centuries   ago   to   provide   a   cool, refreshing   drink   for   pilgrims,   in   compliance   with   an   ancient   custom, typical   of   the   hospitable   Middle   East.   But   the   fountain   is   dry   now,   its spigot   blocked.   The   introduction   of   running   water,   sometime   during the British Mandate, has made the custom redundant.        Behind   and   above   the   fountain,   a   marble   plaque   embedded   in   the wall   and   engraved   in   flowing,   interlinked   Arab   script,   proclaims   the privileged    status    of    the    Armenian    Patriarchate,    and    calls    down horrendous   curses   on   the   heads   of   those   who   would   violate   these privileges, granted by the Mameluke Sultan Chakmak.       Just   across   the   entrance,   on   the   other   side   of   the   road,   sprawls   the L-shaped    structure    that    houses    the    Theological    Seminary.    This    is undoubtedly    the    raison    d'etre    of    the    Armenian    Patriarchate    of Jerusalem   -   had   it   not   been   for   this   institution,   the   Armenian   church would   have   been   in   crisis   and   the   Armenian   presence   in   the   Holy   Land a mirage.        The   building   is   a   gift   of   the   Armenian   philanthropist   couple,   Alex and Mary Manoogian. It is here that Armenian youths from   all   over   the   world,   including   the   USA   and Armenia,   come   to   study and   prepare   for   a   priestly   vocation.   When   ordained,   after   several   years of   intensive   study,   they   will   be   posted   to   various   churches   or   parishes in   the   Holy   Land   and   overseas,   and   help   infuse   new   blood   among   the ranks of Armenian clergy.        The   Seminary,   which   ranks   as   the   most   important   institution   of higher   learning   in   the   Diaspora   preparing   Armenian   youths   for   the priesthood,   is   on   the   verge   of   a   new   era,   in   the   wake   of   the   election   of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian as Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.        The   Patriarch,   himself   a   graduate   of   the   Seminary   (it   was   housed   in a   different   building   in   his   days),   is   intent   on   pulling   all   stops   in   an   all- out    effort    to    transform    this    institution    into    a    modern    center    of learning,   able   to   cope   with   the   constantly   expanding   horizons   of   the Church in view of our expanding universe.        One   of   the   first   projects   he   launched   after   his   election   was   the recruitment   of   leading   Armenian   academics   from   Yerevan   to   teach   at the   Seminary.   Not   content   with   merely   upgrading   the   caliber   of   its faculty,   the   Patriarch   set   to   work   revamping   the   Seminary   curriculum in    order    to    bring    it    up    to    date    with    modern    undergraduate requirements.        Basically,   a   candidate   for   the   priesthood   has   to   undergo   a   six-year introductory   course   of   education   before   he   can   attain   the   first   order   in the   priestly   hierarchy,   that   of   Deacon.   Another   four   years   of   higher studies   are   mandated   before   a   Deacon,   who   will   by   now   have   earned an   academic   status   equivalent   to   a   Bachelor's   Degree,   can   be   ordained a priest.      In modern times, most of the candidates for the priesthood have   been   drawn   from   the   ranks   of   the   youth   of   neighboring   Arab countries,   but   following   the   independence   of   Armenia   and   the   easing of   travel   restrictions,   there   has   been   a   steady   infusion   of   young   blood from   the   Motherland   itself.   In   addition,   several   young   people   from   the USA   and   Latin   America   have   also   shown   an   interest   in   taking   religious vows and have been studying at the Seminary.        The   Seminary   can   accommodate   up   to   100   students   at   a   time,   but its   present   occupancy   stands   at   about   60,   almost   exclusively   from Armenia.         They    come    from    the    capital    Yerevan,    from    outlying    towns    or villages   with   unfamiliar,   exotic   names.   Some   of   them   were   orphaned by   the   December   1988   earthquake.   All   eager   to   participate   in   the preparation involved in becoming a priest.        It   is   not   easy   for   a   young   child   of   12   to   be   separated   from   his siblings   or   parents,   from   friends   or   relatives   he   has   known   all   his   life. Giving   everything   up   and   making   the   trek   into   the   unknown   new   world of   the   Middle   East   is   not   easy.   But   they   have   made   it   to   Jerusalem,   and they   intend   to   stay   here   until   they   are   ready   to   take   on   their   rightful place within the Church.      To   compensate   for   the   huge   sacrifice   these   seminarians   have   had   to make,   the   Patriarchate   lavishes   care,   attention   and   affection   upon them.   Over   and   above   the   rigorous   solid   education   they   obtain   in Jerusalem,   the   prospective   priests   are   encouraged   to   develop   their individual   talents   in   whatever   extra-curricular   field   or   activity   that may be.        The   result   has   been   an   outpouring   of   energy   and   accomplishment, from   major   theatrical   productions   to   the   formation   of   a   modern   guitar band.         Under    the    direction    of    members    of    their    own    group,    young seminarians      have      gleefully      staged      farces,      spectacles      and extravaganzas,    to    the    delight    of    Jerusalemites.    But    their    most ambitious   theatrical   undertaking   has   been   the   production   of   a   play   on St   Vartan   Mamigonian   and   the   crucial   battle   of Avarair.   There   were   few dry   eyes   as   the   curtain   came   down   that   night   on   the   destruction   and havoc   caused   by   the   Persian   invaders   in   the   5th   Century,   and   the   grim determination of the besieged and outnumbered Armenians, to survive.        Another   extremely   gratifying   activity   has   been   the   archaeological excavation    program    introduced    by    Patriarch    Manoogian,    with    the assistance   of   and   under   the   guidance   of   America's   famous   Harvard University.   Seminarians   have   participated   in   a   number   of   digs,   in   far- off-places   they   had   never   heard   of   before,   gaining   valuable   historical knowledge   and   background   about   the   intriguing   history   of   the   Holy Land.        During   the   summer   holidays,   seminarians   enjoy   weekly   outings   that are   intended   to   make   them   familiar   not   only   with   every   nook   and cranny of the Holy Land, but also with all aspects of life here.         The    school    year    which    begins    in    September,    is    packed    with    a curriculum   that   is   intended   to   provide   the   Seminarians   with   the   best education possible, at the hands of the best teachers available.      Although   snowed   under   by   the   overwhelming   amount   of   work   on   his desk,   Patriarch   Manoogian,   known   for   the   paternal   interest   he   takes   in his   charges,   finds   time   to   meet   with   the   seminarians   on   a   regular basis.        Among   them   is   a   group   of   deacons   who   are   approaching   the   final stages   of   their   education.   The   group   has   organized   itself   into   a   society, complete   with   Chairman   and   Treasurer,   and   holds   weekly   meetings, chaired   by   the   Patriarch,   during   which   he   gives   them   instruction   in   the finer    points    of    theology.    These    sessions    are    the    highlight    of    the diaconal   life,   because   they   provide   not   only   the   proper   perspective and   background   for   the   deacons   in   their   understanding   of   theology,   but also the experience of the superior wisdom of their Patriarch.        During   the   week,   the   seminarians   are   fed   a   rich   diet   of   literature, mathematics,   sciences,   languages   and   theological   studies   and,   in   order to   enable   them   to   come   to   grips   with   the   demands   of   the   technological age,   a   course   in   computer   literacy,   at   the   hands   of   a   computer   expert expressly   hired   for   the   purpose.   The   students   are   introduced   to   DOS and   Windows,   and   go   through   the   fundamentals   of   programming,   word processing   and   data   base   management.   (Of   course,   when   the   teacher is   not   looking,   there's   always   the   temptation   to   try   their   hands   at   a game of Solitaire or Galactic Wars).        The   total   aim   of   all   this   is   to   prepare   neophyte,   immature   youths for   the   grand   vocation   of   a   priest,   a   "vartabed,"   the   religious   teacher and   leader   of   his   community   or   parish   whose   example   they   will   follow, whose    blessing    they    will    seek    and    whose    intercession    they    will treasure.        This   is   why   the   theological   seminary   of   the   Armenian   Patriarchate occupies   perhaps   the   most   important   position   in   its   rung   of   priorities since   it   is   the   repository   of   the   Armenian   church,   the   source   of   its continued existence and perpetuation, the backbone of its expansion.      Throughout the history of the Armenian nation, the defense of   the   country   has   invariably   devolved   upon   the   church   and   its   leaders. It   was   these   heirs   of   Saint Thaddeus   and   Saint   Bartholomew   who   rallied their   countrymen   to   the   heroic   battle   for   survival,   a   battle Armenians, unlike   other   ancient   races   who   have   disappeared   down   the   alleys   of history, have won.        "The   making   of   an Armenian   priest   therefore   is   nothing   more   than   a simple   act   of   survival,   and   if   we   are   to   survive,   we   must   continue   the task   of   providing   a   steady   supply   of   these   spiritual   catalysts,"   Patriarch Manoogian said.        Without   its   church,   then,   the Armenian   nation   would   have   perished long ago.        The   task   of   preparing   seminarians   for   the   priesthood   is   not   an   easy one.    The    annual    cost    of    educating,    feeding    and    clothing    one seminarian     has     been     calculated     at     US$5,000.    At     present,     the Theological   Seminary   houses   30   students   (although   it   can   easily   absorb 100),    and    the    total    cost    is    US$150,000,    a    princely    sum    that    the Patriarchate   can   raise   only   with   the   active   support   of   donations   from abroad.        The   Patriarchate's   major   concern   is   to   ensure   a   steady   supply   of seminarians    to    combat    the    inevitable    attrition    among    their    ranks; because   it   is   a   well-known   and   well-established   fact   that   not   every seminarian who signs up, goes on to become an ordained priest.          Unfortunately,     the     traditional     recruitment     sources     in     the neighboring   Arab   countries   have   dried   up   to   all   intents   and   purposes. Importing   students   from   Turkey,   another   major   sources,   is   replete   with difficulties.   Armenia   now   offers   the   best   hope,   but   there   are   logistics and human problems to contend with.      Following his election Patriarch Manoogian initiated a bold new   approach   to   attract   young Armenians   from   the   verdant   pastures   of the   West,   and   his   persistent   efforts   have   begun   to   pay   off.   Several Armenian American   students,   eager   to   retrace   their   roots   and   reinforce their   faith,   heeded   his   call   and   came   to   Jerusalem   to   study   at   the Seminary   and   to   absorb   the   special   atmosphere   the   Holy   City   has   to offer.   The   Jerusalem   experience,   dubbed   an   "internship"   programmed, has   had   a   tremendous   effect   on   these   motivated   people,   and   it   is hoped   that   their   apprenticeship   in   Jerusalem   will   propel   them   towards a priestly vocation.        The   "internship"   programmed   introduced   the   young   hopefuls   to   a busy   schedule   of   studies   and   activities.   Every   one   of   the   "intern"s possessed   some   special   qualification   or   expertise,   and   the   Patriarchate capitalized   on   their   skills   by   encouraging   the   "intern"s   to   pass   on   the experience they had gained.        The   result   was   the   introduction   of   the   seminarians   into   a   different but vibrant perspective on life, the American way.        Patriarch   Manoogian   has   been   particularly   eager   to   raise   academic and   educational   levels   at   the   Seminary   and   with   this   in   mind,   he   has invited some of Armenia's leading academicians to Jerusalem to teach.        Under   a   special   arrangement   hammered   out   with   the   Armenian Republic's   Ministry   of   Education,   the   Patriarchate   obtained   the   services of   several   brilliant   doctor-professors   whose   presence   has   enhanced   the prestige   of   the   theological   seminary   and   enriched   the   lives   of   the students.    In    addition,    their    contacts    with    members    of    the    local community   have   resulted   in   a   timely,   much-needed   impetus,   a   shot   in the   arm   for   the   hapless Armenians   of   Jerusalem   whose   ranks   are   being decimated by a relentless brain drain.        Students   who   complete   a   full   course   at   the   theological   seminary will   have   gained   an   education   equivalent   to   undergraduate   university entrance   requirements. Although   accreditation   is   not   a   principal   aim   of the   seminary,   it   is   intended   that   when   a   candidate   reaches   ordination, he will be considered to have acquired a Bachelor's Degree.      The subjects taught at the seminary include:      * Four languages: Armenian, English, Arabic and Hebrew      * Theology and philosophy      * Liturgy and music      * Patrology      * Armenian language and history      * Sciences      * Mathematics      * Arts and crafts      * Computer science.        The    seminary    students    enjoy    a    healthy,    active    and    stimulating environment,   both   mentally   and   physically.   They   have   access   to   some of   the   best   medical   and   dental   care   available.   In   short,   they   are   made to lack nothing.        But   over   and   above   all,   it   is   the   paternal   care   and   affection   which Patriarch Manoogian lavishes upon them that makes the difference.        "They   are   the   hope   of   the   future,   these   young   blossoms   that   will someday   burst   into   bloom,   and   dissipate   the   dark   phantoms   that   hover across the horizon of our church," Patriarch Manoogian said.
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