NEW YORK — Under the presidency of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, more than a dozen Armenian bishops and lay leaders from around the world gathered this week for a meeting of the Supreme Spiritual Council: the ecclesiastical governing body of the Armenian Church.
In an unprecedented turn, the meeting convened in New York city, at the headquarters of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America: the first time the body has met away from Armenia.
Attending were bishops from diocesan jurisdictions throughout the world, including the primates of Artsakh, the Eastern and Western U.S., Canada, France, Australia, Russia, Siunik, Georgia, and Armenia’s Araratian region. The patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople also sent representatives.
Armenian General Benevolent Union president Berge Setrakian, fresh from the celebration of the AGBU’s 110th anniversary, was also an integral part of the meetings and gatherings of the week.
On October 31 and November 1, His Holiness and the 17 members of the Council convened a joint meeting with the executive bodies of the Eastern, Western, and Canadian dioceses and the AGBU, under the theme, “Bringing the Church to the People: Reaching Out to the Armenians of North America.”
In an opening overview of the joint meeting, Eastern Diocesan Council chair James Kalustian outlined three broad guiding statements for the proceedings: “Our faith is more than 2,000 years old; our church thinking is not”; “We are an innovative, transparent, and embracing church”; and “We care about our flock and are coming to the people.”
The 36 participating dignitaries discussed the emerging realities within the Armenian-American community, and the prospects for expanding the church’s ministry. The three primates of the North American dioceses-Archbishop Khajag Barsamian (Eastern U.S.), Archbishop Hovnan Derderian (Western U.S.), and Bishop Abgar Hovakimian (Canada)-answered questions and offered insight throughout the proceedings.
Presentations on specific topics were also heard. Etchmiadzin Chancellor Bishop Arshak Khachatryan gave an overview of the Supreme Spiritual Council; the Eastern Diocese’s communications director Christopher Zakian spoke on the history of the Armenian Church in America, its composition and demography; Dr. Rachel Goshgarian of Lafayette College spoke on the interplay of faith and culture in the church, through the lens of a sociological study on church life; and Western Diocesan Council chair Joseph Kanimanian spoke on ways to attract greater numbers into active church participation.
Panel discussions on issues involving youth and clergy were led by Dr. Nicole Vartanian, Arda Nazarian, and Supreme Spiritual Council members Dr. Varoujan Altebarmakian and James Kalustian. The gathering also heard of a proposed multi-million-dollar project to build housing for military families in Artsakh, to be undertaken by the Mother See.
After the joint meeting adjourned, a regular session of the Supreme Spiritual Council went forward on November 2-3, addressing ongoing matters of governance and ministry in the worldwide Armenian Church.
A number of Armenian Church leaders generously hosted dinners and social gatherings for the visiting dignitaries throughout their time in New York.