Below you may read the full text of the lecture delivered by His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, at the assembly of the Brotherhood of the Great House of Cilicia, held on July 4-5, 2022.
Identity and mission are inseparably entwined words, as both depend on each other to acquire their true meaning and are mutually complementary, becoming the driving force behind the proclamation of 2022 as Year of the Diaspora by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
The identity of a clergyman, in general, especially an Armenian one from the Cilician Brotherhood, is rooted in the life and teachings of the Only Begotten who became man, our Lord Jesus Christ, which are reflected in the life of the apostles and of the saints, in the miraculous manifestation of the lord’s command, that all things can be done with God.
The God-given identity of the Armenian clergyman is crowned by the foundational faith of the people into which he was born and by its fatalistic and sad fate. Therefore, carrying every event of life with the yoke of his faith-based identity, he turns into life the words of the Divine Liturgy, “And we offer to you yours of your own from all and for all,” and in his service he offers what has been served to him by the miracle of God to the Maker of miracles. In one word, the brotherhood of the Great House of Cilicia, established by the apostles St. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and built by St. Gregory the Illuminator, Nerses Shnorhali, and Catholicos Krikor Musabekiants, and renewed with Catholicoi Sahag I, Zareh I, and Aram I, the twin components of the DNA of each soldier in this cause are the likeness of Christ and the service to the people, for the glory of God.
As every congregant who was raised in the Seminary is imbued with the spirit of the institution’s anthem, in which “the fire of religion and love for the nation” become fused and are the driving force of his mission, when he lays his hand on the stilt of the plough, regardless of how endless and full of surprises the horizon may be, he ploughs with the light of the word of the Lord the land entrusted to him by the Almighty, being confident that the Holy Ghost will water and reward the hard work of “unworthy servant.”
However different times and societies may seem, they will follow the deep, mysterious plan of the Creator. With this certainty, I will share a few highlights of my experience, confident that they will be refined in the forge of the collective experience for the benefit and strength of the soldiers of the Cilician Brotherhood.
1. THE MAN OF GOD
By his condition and service, with his words and work, attitude and conduct, by the side of his flock or strangers, he presents himself as the man of God, as the widow of Zarephath addressed the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:24). To be with the congregation, however, should never be confused with becoming vulgar. To be in the world without becoming mundane. During this era of upheaval of values, the clergyman, with his attitude and stature, conduct and values, must reflect the Supreme Character, who became a man to deify men. His heart must beat with the daily suffering of the people, as the Apostle says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor 11:29), condoling with the sufferer without becoming a victim of pain, bringing a solution to crises and not complicating them. This grace, received through the holy sacrament of ordination, is renewed with permanent prayer, familiarity with the Holy Scriptures and patristics, and the vita of the saints.
2. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF GENERATIONAL CHANGE
The natural effects of generational change caused by the development of civilization and the possibilities propitiated by technology in the last thirty years have multiplied. If three generations following the Genocide were satisfied by performing the sacraments and preaching with a patriotic spirit, the new generations have become more demanding in their sincere desire to placate their spiritual thirst in the fountain of the mother Church, seeking the brave shepherd, the preacher of the Living Word, in the clergyman –the organizer of spiritual gatherings for teenagers and youth, as well as the counselor on family and moral issues, and so on.
Next to these virtues required from the clergyman, the zeal to introduce the younger generation to the rich legacy of our fathers, the rites and the literature that is in classical Armenian, is of the utmost importance, so that they may become more communicative to God. Within this context, however the language and duration of the Divine Liturgy has let to complaints, when its depth, spirit, and relevance are explained, believers consciously and lovingly relate to the rite.
In the face of this positive reality, generational change, becoming one with worldliness, has created some upsets. While the community was the priority for the elderly generation, devoting part of their fair and modest income for the growth of the church, school, and community center, the well being of the individual is emphasized among the new generation. Likewise, assuming responsibilities was seen as a moral obligation by the older generation, while the new generation avoids it, sometimes even breaking its ties with the community structures whose beneficiaries were even their parents.
These developments pose a serious challenge to the clergyman in his efforts to bridge generations and to draw youth closer to their roots.
It is well known to all of us that the pandemic completely disrupted spiritual, intellectual, social, and other structures and ways of life developed over the centuries. It is impossible to deny the fact that this unprecedented experience, along with its negative aspects, also had a positive outcome, mobilizing hidden capabilities we had amidst us. It is true that the Church assumed a more active role in the community life amid the global scientific and medical, political and social confusion and uncertainty, and the Church remained loyal to the True Way of Life through divine strategy, adopting new ways. Nevertheless, the new arrangements that became a habit over two years are in the process of becoming the norm in an informal manner. Therefore, the mission of the Church is expected to be given new impetus, using tradition and innovation in all harmony. Such a step requires clergymen endowed with wise, thoughtful, and forward-looking strategies.
The key to marching in lockstep with a society that is permanently evolving remain the abiding self-improvement of church ministers, through higher education as well as personal reading. The stepping stone for self-improvement is a vast knowledge of our culture and language. Shahan Shahnur’s “Retreat Without Song” has become an even sadder reality in every field of Armenian life. The clergyman is always a sentinel for the health of the souls (Ez 3:17), especially for the tradition inherited from the enlighteners of our mind, Sahag and Mesrob Mashdots, especially the sacred duty of keeping the Western Armenian language alive, which has become the fundamental element of the mission of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, and that dedication must find an expression in the life of every congregant.
Self-esteem is not limited to the cultural sphere. We know for sure that there were tremendous changes in technology and social relations, and most likely the next decades will be a period of new discoveries, different from all traditional understandings and approaches. The brotherhood of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia must prepare at all levels to withstand this period of transition to find itself in a leading position.
The developments outlined above tell us that in a world in permanent change and transformation, the clergyman must reflect his mission with a Christian-centric identity. Thus, his role model must be that of a devout, well-read clergyman, versed in technology and endowed with a spirit of initiative, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. New horizons open before the 90-year-old Zarehian Seminary, which has become the heart of the Great House of Cilicia now established on the land of the cedars, to prepare such laborers, and the yoke of this preparation is a sweet burden on all of us, whether we are congregants in monastic residence or serving in prelacies, for the Church to remain a beacon of hope and life to lead the people to God against the threats of assimilation in the Diaspora.