By Bishop Daniel
Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
What follows is Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan’s personal account of his trip to Istanbul on January 11-12, for the enthronement and Antranig Badarak of His Beatitude Sahak II, the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople.
I was in Bolis for five days, accompanied by Fr. Armash Baghdasarian, assistant pastor of the St. John Armenian Church (Southfield, MI), who was born and raised in Istanbul, and served the church there diligently and lovingly from the time of his childhood.
The enthronement took place in the Sourp Asdvadzadzin (Holy Mother-of-God) Cathedral across from the Patriarchate in the Kumkapi district of Istanbul. I was one of nine bishops and several priests who had traveled to Istanbul for the occasion, representing each of the Armenian Church’s hierarchical sees and several dioceses. Bishop Apgar, Primate of Canada, was also in attendance.
A number of ecumenical hierarchs also participated, notably His Holiness Bartholomew, the (Orthodox) Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople; a delegation from the Vatican; His Eminence Archbishop Levon Zekiyan, Archbishop of the Armenian Catholic Church of Constantinople; and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. The cathedral was completely full, with many more people standing outside—easily totaling over one thousand people.
The long ceremony began with a procession from the Patriarchate across the street to the cathedral. There followed a festive “Giragamdits” (Saturday Evening) vespers service. At the end of the service, all of the bishops were vested, and with hand cross and bishop’s staff we ascended the holy altar to surround the Patriarch-elect.
During the ceremony, the Patriarch-elect knelt down and read an oath, where upon Khajag Srpazan, as the senior bishop in attendance, read the long prayer of blessing on the new Patriarch. After that all of the bishops approached the still-kneeling Patriarch, and together blessed him with their hand crosses.
A Patriarchal Encyclical (Gontag) of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was read by Archbishop Yeznik Petrossyan of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Representatives of the Great House of Cilicia read His Holiness Catholicos Aram I’s letter of congratulation; and the Very Rev. Fr.Baret Yeretzian read the letter of His Beatitude Nourhan Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. Many people observed how significant it was that all of the holy sees of the Armenian Church were represented.
This was the first time that I have participated as a bishop in such a grand ceremony, and I was deeply honored and uplifted.
A Pledge of Service
There followed a long series of greetings by all of the hierarchs in attendance. At the end His Beatitude Patriarch Sahak II delivered his message: a very personal and heartfelt expression of humility and faith, in which he reflected on the long path of his life and ministry that has brought him to this exceptionally important office. He pledged to serve the Lord and the Holy See of Constantinople.
Patriarch Sahak said (my translation): “My journey leading to the Lord Jesus Christ has now brought me to this Enthronement, and I will not rest in my new position until I see Him face to face.” He expressed his thanks to the people, the clergy present, for their part in this ceremony and in his life. With special affection he remembered his spiritual fathers: his late predecessors in the office, PatriarchShnork Kaloustian and Patriarch MesrobMoutafyan.
The enthronement ceremony concluded with His Beatitude being escorted to his throne and taking his place—whereupon all of the hierarchs, one by one, approached him to kiss his hand and receive his blessing. A joyous public reception followed.
The next day His Beatitude celebrated his first Badarak as Patriarch. It was a wonderful, uplifting celebration with the participation of all of the Armenian clergy of Istanbul, a joint choir comprising dozens of singers, dozens of deacons and altar servers, as well as all of the visiting dignitaries.
At the end of the Badarak, the Patriarch called Fr. Armash up to the bema and gave him a beautiful Armenian pectoral cross in appreciation for his dedicated service to the Patriarchate and to the Armenian Church as a whole.
An Emotional Personal Experience
In the evening a formal congratulatory banquet was held for the clergy, visiting hierarchs, ecumenical guests, and prominent members of the community. I rose and said the following:
“Your Beatitude, Brother Clergy, and Dear People. My participation in the enthronement ceremonies these days has been particularly emotional for me. Emotional first of all because my family’s roots are deeply embedded in the sacred soil of this historical See of Constantinople. And emotional as well because I represent the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which, more than 100 years ago, was originally placed under the authority of the Holy See of Constantinople by decision of Catholicos Khrimian Hayrig. From those days until now, our Bolsetsis, the faithful people who hail from this city, are among the most ardent, church-loving, faithful members of our Diocese.
“I have known Patriarch Sahag for more than 30 years. We first met in Jerusalem, when I was there doing manuscript research for my doctoral thesis and, providentially, a young, newly-ordained apegha named Hayr Sahak was on pilgrimage in the Holy City, having come from Istanbul. It was Great Lent. I shall never forget how deeply impressed and inspired I was to hear Hayr Sahak preach in the Church of the Holy Archangels one evening. His passion, his obvious faith, and his deep love for Jesus Christ and the Armenian Church impressed me deeply and inspired me in my own vocation to be a priest.
“Patriarch Hayr, your new ministry begins among the good people of this historic city. But your flock also extends far beyond the geographical limits of this city. May our Lord bless you abundantly so that you may be a ‘Good Shepherd’ for your community and for the entire Armenian Church, for the eternal welfare of our people and for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
Echoes of Our History
During a private visit with His Beatitude, I pledged the full and enthusiastic support of our Diocese in assisting the Patriarch in his holy ministry. We discussed a number of prospects for cooperation, including pilgrimages by our people to Constantinople, historical Armenia, and other sacred and biblical sites in Turkey; cooperation in the training of seminarians, deacons, and priests in Istanbul and at St. Nersess Seminary; and assisting in raising needed funds for the Patriarchate.
This was my first visit to Istanbul. I had the opportunity to visit my father’s old neighborhood, the churches in which he prayed, as well as the Church of the Apparition of the Holy Cross (Yerevman Sourp Khatch) in the Kruçeshme neighborhood, where my grandfather directed the Gomidas Choir, founded by Gomidas Vartabed himself.
As a teacher and scholar, I have read a great deal about the centrality of Constantinople in world history, in the history of the universal Church, and of course in the history of our people and the Armenian Church. But to see with my eyes the places where this history happened; to pray in and around the holy places that became so influential in the development of our liturgy, theology, spirituality and Christian culture was simply awe-inspiring. One day last week while driving, the senior priest in Constantinople, Der Krikor Damadyan, pointed to a distant island in the Sea of Marmara and said, “That is where St. Nersess was imprisoned.” I said, “Which St. Nersess?” He replied, “St. Nersess the Great,” the fourth-century saint and Catholicos of our Church. Fourth century! Talk about history…
As I return from Istanbul, I recognize with greater clarity the importance of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for our church as a whole, and for the vitality of our Diocese. The city, the Holy See, and its new and ardent Patriarch are a great blessing for all of us. As we are blessed again and again by the clergy, the holy places, the holy traditions, and holy work of the Holy Mother See of Etchmiadzin, and by the Holy See of Jerusalem, we stand to be blessed as well by re-engaging with the Holy See of Constantinople. I pledge as Bishop of this Diocese, to work closely with His Beatitude Patriarch Sahak and our people to do just that, with God’s help.