The Very Revd. Fr. Manuel Yergatyan, entered eternal rest following long years of cardiac treatment, on February 11, 2004, in Almelo, the Netherlands.
He was born on September 11, 1954, in Istanbul, Turkey, the second son of Haci (Armenian Orthodox) and Sabahat (Turkish Moslem). Baptised in the Holy Mother-of-God Patriarchal Church by the Revd. Fr. Garabed Balian on December 4, 1959, his godfather was the Revd. Deacon Antranig Hallajian and his baptismal name was Haig.
He was a pupil at the St. Mesrob Armenian Parish School in Gedikpasha and attended the children’s choirs in the Armenian parish churches of Gedikpasha and Bakirkoey.
In 1968, Haig was taken to the Patriarchal Theological School in Jerusalem by the Revd. Fr. Partogh Kherkaciyan. In 1973, now a graduate of the seminary, he was ordained a subdeacon by His Grace Archbishop Shahe Adjemian. In 1974, he returned to Turkey to fulfil his mandatory military service. On completing this duty, he renewed his vow to seek a priestly vocation.
On August 5, 1976, he officially applied to His Beatitude Patriarch Shnorhk of Istanbul for priestly ordination. The following week he was ordained a Deacon by His Grace Bishop Shahan Sývacýyan and priest by His Beatitude Patriarch Shnorhk on August 22, 1976 during the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Armenian Parish Church of the Holy Mother-of-God in Ortaköy, and was given the name in religion of Fr. Manuel.
His Beatitude Patriarch Shnorhk, on April 6, 1978, gave Fr. Manuel permission to become a member of the Brotherhood of Sts. James of the Armenian Patriarchal See of Jerusalem, and he was received into that Brotherhood by His Beatitude Patriarch Yeghishe II of Jerusalem. For two years he served the Brotherhood as the Administrator of the Patriarchal Seminary, giving of his time and effort, selflessly and unsparingly. A gifted painter, he also executed several religious paintings for the holy shrines at Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
At the end of August, 1980, Fr. Manuel returned to Turkey for his summer vacation and to seek new vocations for the Jerusalem seminary. On his return trip he was arrested at Yeshilkoey Airport in Istanbul on October 13, 1980.
He and the five new candidates for the seminary were held for interrogation. Though the candidates were later released, Fr. Manuel himself remained in custody. A temporary military court decided to keep him imprisoned on November 13, 1980. Patriarch Shnorhk, of blessed memory, delegated a team of lawyers, headed by Attorney Hasan Basri Oezturk to work for Fr.Manuel’s release. Subsequently, for reasons unexplained, they decided to withdraw from the case. On September 2, 1982 Patriarch Shnorhk appeared in court to speak on behalf of Fr. Manuel. However a former seminarian out, Mikael Saglam, testified in court claiming that Fr. Manuel had organised anti-Turkish manifestations in Jerusalem and that he had heard from more senior seminarians that Fr. Manuel had named one of his pet dogs ‘Ataturk’, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey. The final verdict of the military court, issued on March 18, 1983, was that he should be imprisoned for 14 years. His crime: “that whilst in a foreign country, and making use of his religious ministry, he had been involved in activities against the national interests of Turkey”. However he was released on May 18, 1986, following a general amnesty. Whilst under parole from 1986 to 1991, Fr. Manuel served as an auxiliary priest in Istanbul, and resided at the Patriarchate. Finally, he received a passport and obtained permission to leave the country on December 30, 1991.
He then ministered as the pastor of Armenians living in the Netherlands under the Armenian Orthodox jurisdiction of Western Europe, centred in Paris.
For the last few years, Fr. Manuel’s cardiac condition deteriorated and he thought it best that he should retire. The Dutch Government generously provided the necessary medical attention.
Because Istanbul was Fr. Manuel’s birthplace and since it was also where he had been ordained a priest, His Beatitude Patriarch Mesrob of Istanbul suggested that his mortal remains be brought back to Istanbul and be interred in the clerical cemetery in Shishli. Fr. Manuel’s family members, however, preferred that the burial take place in Almelo. The Patriarch, still in hospital after the road accident he had experienced on February 1, delegated the Chairman of the Religious Council, His Grace Bishop Aram Ateshyan, to participate in the funeral service, representing the Patriarchal See of Istanbul.
The rites were held in the Armenian Parish Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Almelo on February 16, 2004 at 13.00 hours. Presiding was His Grace Archbishop Kjud of Paris, whilst His Grace Archbishop Nurhan Manoogian, the Grand Sacristan of the Patriarchal See of Jerusalem, and Bishop Aram Ateshyan participated. Messages from His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II of All Armenians, His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom II of Jerusalem and His Beatitude Patriarch Mesrob II of Istanbul were delivered respectively. Fr. Manuel’s remains were laid to rest in the Almelo Cemetery.
Fr. Manuel is survived by his elder brother, Samuel, and relatives. A memorial service for the repose of his soul was held in the Armenian Patriarchal Church of the Holy Mother-of-God, in Kumkapi, Istanbul, on Tuesday, February 17, Feast of St. Ghevont and his comrades.
May he rest in peace and may the Risen Lord raise His faithful servant up at the sound of the trumpet.