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German Evangelicals Pay Official Visit To The Armenian Patriarchate

1. German Evangelical Church Delegation visits the Patriarch
2. A Brief History of the Armenian Patriarchate
3. Replies to journalists’ questions
4. Joint Statement of the Church Leaders
5. The German Delegation

1. German Evangelical Church Delegation visits the Patriarch

A large delegation of the German Evangelical Church, headed by the President of the Council of German Evangelical Churches, the Most Reverend Manfred Kock, paid an official visit to His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, and the Armenian Patriarchate.

The German Evangelical Church is one of the largest churches in Germany with 27 million adherents.

Patriarch Mesrob formally welcomed the delegation at Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church on Kinali Island, on 4 May 2001, and gave a brief background on the history of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul. (See item 2 below).

His Beatitude explained that in addition to the primary universal mission of preaching the Gospel of Christ and the particular mission of preserving the Armenian Christian heritage within the unity of the worldwide Armenian Church, the Armenian Patriarchal See of Istanbul, in view of tragic historical developments, is challenged in the beginning of the Third Millennium by a profound need for an earnest ministry for understanding and reconciliation between Armenian and Turkish peoples and authorities.

“We are not diplomats, however,” said the Patriarch. “We are simple priests, humble channels of peace, relying on the lead of the Holy Spirit…”

His Beatitude stated that this year the Armenian Church worldwide is celebrating the 1700th anniversary of the official recognition of the Apostolic Church by the Armenian King Tiridates III. He said this is an opportunity for Christian Armenians to contemplate and to resolve a spiritual renewal.

He underlined that the visit of the German Evangelical delegation is a new ring on the long chain of fruitful relations between the Patriarchal See and the German Evangelicals, established during the tenure of Patriarch Shnork of beloved memory, in the early 1970s.

His Beatitude thanked the German delegation for the scholarships they grant for the students of the Patriarchate, which in the absence of a theological seminary in Istanbul is a noteworthy contribution towards the preparation and formation of a new generation of deacons and priests. He hoped that the
delegation’s visit to Turkey and the ecumenical and inter-faith discussions would be fruitful.

The Most Reverend Manfred Kock thanked His Beatitude for the warm welcome, adding that he is happy to meet the Patriarch again, recalling their meeting in Düsseldorf last year. He said they usually receive news and read information about the Armenian Church and the other churches and communities in Turkey, however, the delegation decided to pay a visit and gain firsthand knowledge about the situation of the Christians in the country. There is a large Turkish Moslem community in Germany, and the third largest church in the country is the Orthodox Church whose mother see is the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Revd. Kock continued that the Armenian community in Germany is also flourishing under the guidance of Archbishop Karekin of Cologne. Most of the Armenians and almost all of the Syriac Orthodox Christians in Germany are originally from Turkey. All of these make Turkey a very interesting country for the German Church to study and to understand. He said German Christians share the joy of the Armenian Christians who are celebrating such an ancient heritage. In conclusion, he said he is looking forward to discussions with His Beatitude.

Excursion and Luncheon

Following this first formal encounter, the two church leaders and their entourage took a short walk on the Kinali Island. They first visited the Karageuzyan Orphanage Summer Camp, which houses about 200 less fortunate children during the summer school break and provides them care and comfort. The Armenian community sponsors the program.

The group then climbed up to the peak of the Island, where they saw the remnants of the ancient Byzantine monastery of Metamorphosis (Transfiguration), where on Christmas in 820 the mutilated body of Byzantine Emperor Leo the Armenian (Levon Haygazn) was buried, along with the bodies of his four sons. The group could not enter the present-day monastery since it was closed and is usually open only during the summer
months to receive pilgrims. The monastery is also the place where the Byzantine Emperor Romanus Diogenes was exiled by the Byzantine court and was later buried, having lost the decisive battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Seljuk Sultan Alp Aslan.

The Armenian Church Council of the Princes’ Islands prepared a luncheon for the guests in the garden of the Kinali Church. His Excellency Mr. Coshkun Ozden, the Mayor of the Princes’ Islands also attended the luncheon.

Following lunch, Patriarch Mesrob answered to questions by German clerics and newspaper reporters related to ecumenical and inter-faith issues. (See item 3 below).

This was followed by a private consultation of His Beatitude, delegation leader Reverend Kock and His Excellency Mr. Rudolf Schmidt, the Ambassador of Germany in Ankara, which was held over coffee in the summer house of the Armenian Patriarchate on the Island

Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God

On Saturday, 5 May 2001, at the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in the district of Pera, Patriarch Mesrob presided over an ecumenical celebration of the Word of God on the occasion of the visit to Istanbul of the Most Reverend Manfred Kock and the members of the German Evangelical delegation. A mixed congregation of approximately 250 Germans and Armenians participated in the service, along with the leaders and representatives of the German Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Evangelical, Latin Catholic, Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Protestant and Union churches, the American Board and the United Bible Societies. His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Seleucia represented his Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was in Greece.

The paschal hymns were sung by the Lusavoritch Youth Choir of the Holy Resurrection Chapel in Pera, conducted by Hagop Mamigonyan. The Very Revd Chorbishop Samuel of the Syriac Church, the Very Revd Mons George Marovitch of the Latin Church and the Revd Pastor Gerhard Duncker of the German Protestant Church read the books of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Gospel, respectively.

In their homilies, the Armenian Patriarch and the German Evangelical Leader emphasized faith in the Risen Lord, Christian fellowship, ecumenical relations and inter-faith undertaking.

At the conclusion of the celebration, Patriarch Mesrob presented his German guest with an Armenian-style chalice and wished that all Christian believers might one day partake of the same holy cup.

A reception was followed in the Naregyan Hall of the Holy Trinity Church, following the liturgical service, attended by church dignitaries and members of the diplomatic corps in Istanbul, as well as members of the Parish Council of Pera (Beyoghlu). The Lusavoritch Youth Choir sang two German and one English song, receiving enthusiastic applauds from the German and Armenian guests.

While in Istanbul, the Most Reverend Manfred Kock also paid courtesy visit and had discussions with His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, His Grace Metropolitan Mar Philixinos of the Syriac Church; in Ankara he met with the Deputy Grand Mufti and Ambassador Volkan Vural, in charge of European Affairs.

2. A Brief History of the Armenian Patriarchate

The Patriarch gave a brief background on the history of the Armenian Patriarchal See in Istanbul to the German delegation.

From the days of foundation of the imperial capital, His Beatitude explained, Armenians were present in the city at all times either as soldiers or merchants. He noted that the very first significant ecclesial events related to the Armenian Church in Constantinople is the mission of Patriarch-Catholicos Saint Nersess to the Byzantine court in 358 AD, and according to Moses of Chorene, his subsequent exile to the Princes’ Islands around by Emperor Valens.

Another Armenian ecclesiastic who suffered persecution in the same period was the Abbot Sahag (Isaac) who established a monastery by the Sea of Marmara.

A major event in the history of the Armenian Church is the visit of Saint Mesrob the Translator to the imperial centre, who having invented the Armenian alphabet in the beginning of the 5th century, asked Emperor Theodosios and Patriarch Atticus in Constantinople to allow the teaching of the new script to the Armenian communities living west of the River Euphrates, circa 420. Subsequently, the Armenian Bible, which was first
translated from the Syriac Peshitta, was then revised in accordance with the Constantinopolitan codex, resulting in what scholars call “Queen of the translations.”

In subsequent centuries, some fully or partially Armenian dignitaries became incumbents of the imperial and patriarchal thrones of Byzantium, and many students from Armenia came to study in the prestigious schools and scriptoria of the metropolis. The Armenian community flourished outside the city walls, in the district called Galata, especially during the relatively more tolerant Latin Kingdom of Constantinople, overseen by an Armenian
bishop, under the jurisdiction of the Armenian prelate in Broussa (Bursa). The latter was invited to Istanbul in 1461 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror and invested with patriarchal dignity and authority which was later gradually recognised by the other five Armenian hierarchical sees — Etchmiadzin, Sis, Jerusalem, Gandzasar and Aghtamar (the latter two are defunct).

As the spiritual centre in the west, the Patriarchal See — which until the beginning of the 20th century had over 45 eparchies — extended from Kars to America. However, presently, the Patriarchate oversees only the Armenian Church communities in Turkey and Crete. In spiritual matters pertaining to the worldwide Armenian Church it recognises the Catholicosate of Holy Etchmiadzin as the Mother See of All Armenians, in collegiality with the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias and the Holy Apostolic See of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

3. Replies to journalists’ questions

In reply to questions asked by German reporters and clerics regarding minority problems in Turkey, the Patriarch commented:

“The Third Millennium has begun. Turkey wishes to take its place within the family of European nations. These are times of change for Turkey. For the rule of law to be realized all legal codes in the country have to be updated, including the laws and regulations governing the minorities in Turkey, which date from the 1930s. Of course, there are problems, but these are not particular solely to Turkey. All minorities in any given country, whether western or eastern, encounter problems. Why? Because they are minorities, and governments and parliaments usually busy themselves with issues that will win them the votes of the majority. As citizens of Turkey minority communities can only resolve their problems with the authorities in Ankara.

The Patriarch went on, saying: “The politicisation of the minority issues by foreigners has never helped solve the issues in the past, and I do not think that they can in the future. Therefore, the way I see it is as follows: Yes, we do have problems, some big and some small. Turkey is pacing forward a tedious process of democratisation. We discuss our issues with the highest government representatives actively and expect solutions. It is also a process that may take time. I never lose faith and hope, and loving our neighbours is an evangelical imperative.”

4. Joint Statement of the Church Leaders

On Friday, 4 May 2001, the Most Reverend Manfred Kock, President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, and His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, signed the following Joint Statement at the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church on Kinali Island:

We, Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, and Manfred Kock, Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, have come together for united prayer and ecumenical discussions. In this, it has been our main concern that the fellowship between our churches, which has existed since the beginning of the Ecumenical Movement, may even be strengthened at the dawn of the Third Millennium.

We have exchanged thoughts and experiences about the present state of our churches in the world of today and, more particularly, have thought of young people, their problems and hopes.

With deep concern we note the lack of peace and unjust circumstances and developments in many parts of the world. We are conscious of the fact that it is the task of our churches to testify that our Lord is the hope of the world and that the gospel of reconciliation shall be proclaimed. At the outset of the Decade to Overcome Violence, we reject the employment of any form of violence and also terrorism in pursuit of political aims, and remind
our fellow Christians that we have been commanded not only to love our neighbours but our enemies as well. The commencement of the Third Millennium and the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the recognition of the Church of Christ by the Armenian Kingdom in 301 AD grant us a prayerful occasion, also in this historic land, to be grateful for the enrichment experienced by the Armenian Church as one of the oldest churches in
Christianity, and the Evangelical Church in Germany as one of the largest of those churches which have emerged from Reformation, in the community of the Christian World, and especially in the midst of the member churches of the World Council of Churches. We are joyfully aware of the fact that even we have been brought closer together through the worldwide ecumenical movement.

In the context of our multi-faith and multicultural societies we reiterate our commitment also to inter-faith relations to which we are committed.

Together we have thanked the Almighty God, the Father of Jesus Christ, our Lord, for the fellowship which has been bestowed upon us and have prayed for the unity of Christians and for the service of reconciliation to all people.”

5. The German Delegation

The German delegation visiting the Armenian Patriarchate included: Mrs Gisela Kock, Dr Beate Scheffer of the Nordrhein-Westfalian State Council, Revd Joern-Erik Gutheil of the Evangelical Church in Rheinland, Revd Werner Lottje of the Human Rights Commission of the Evangelical Church Diakonisches Werk, Revd Horst Oberkampf of the Evangelical Church of Württemberg, Revd Dr Christa Grengel of the German Evangelical Church Centre in Hannover, Revd Gerhard Duncker of the German Protestant Church in Istanbul, His Excellency the German Ambassador Mr Rudolf Schmidt in Ankara, Mr Ulrich Josef Peitz ofthe German Consulate General in Istanbul and German journalists.

From the Armenian Patriarchate, the Grand Ecclesiarch of the Patriarchal See His Grace Bishop Aram Ateshian, the Chancellor of the Patriarchate Revd Dr Krikor Damadyan, Sub-deacon Vagharshag Seropyan and the members of the Armenian Church Council of the Princes’ Islands were among His Beatitudes welcoming entourage.

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