Parish members and other community members packed Soorp Khatch Church of Bethesda, Maryland, last weekend as His Holiness Catholicos Aram I as he celebrated the Ponifical Divine Liturgy on Sunday, November 12, assisted by His Eminence Archbishop Papken, Prelate of the Canadian Prelacy, and Bishop Torkom, Prelate of the Western Prelacy. The previous day, he had met with the youth following the Vespers service.
The liturgical ceremony was also followed by the faithful on a live-stream display in the parish hall too as the church was filled to capacity. It was one of the highlights in the intense schedule of His Holiness in his pontifical visit of the East Coast.
After service at Soorp Khatch on Saturday, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, hailed the presence of His Holiness, which he regarded as a blessed occasion filled with spiritual renewal.
Catholicos Aram I underscored the fact that the church is the House of God and the faithful are its members who do not go just to attend a ritual ceremony. We have to become a church ourselves, he said, with conscientious and consistent participation.
The Achahampouyr (kissing of the right hand) was followed by a meeting with the youth in a hall filled with young people and their parents. The conversation was coordinated by Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who introduced His Holiness.
The Catholicos highlighted the importance of talking with the youth and not just giving suggestions or orders. He responded to all the questions posed to him, which were mostly related to the reorganization of the Diaspora, the renewal and the mission of the Armenian Church, and the maintenance of Armenian identity. His Holiness encouraged his audience to engage in Armenian life both through the church and various organizations.
On Monday, November 13, the Catholicos paid a visit to the ANCA offices in Washington accompanied by His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan and the pontifical entourage.
His Holiness praised the ANCA’s tireless advocacy work, adding that the tragedy in Artsakh and the challenges Armenia faces in a threatening geopolitical context call for new strategies.
Since the beginning of his pontifical visit to the Eastern United States, the Catholicos’ packed agenda included the opening prayer in Congress and meetings with U.S. lawmakers on November 9, as well as the ambassadors of Lebanon (November 7) and Armenia (November 10), and a talk at George Washington University on November 10.
“I Am The Life”
At Soorp Khatch, His Holiness saluted His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate, and the church leadership. Afterwards, he focused his message on Christ’s words, “I am the life.” he said that Christ-life must become the center of our lives, which lose their meaning without Christ’s presence.
To accept Christ as our life is to give meaning to our life with the values brought by Him and give it a clear direction and goal. He underscored that Christ became the second Adam. While the original Adam had sinned and corrupted the divine image, the second Adam, Christ, had restored the divine image and become the source of the authentic human being and of true life.
After the Divine Liturgy, the Catholicos, his entourage and the faithful visited the plot of land where the new Soorp Khatch Church and parish premises will be built.
In the evening, His Holiness presided over the dinner given in his honor. After speeches by Antranig Tossounian, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Soorp Khatch Church; Archpriest Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, Pastor, and Archbishop Anoushavan, the Catholicos delivered the closing remarks.
Faith, community, and nation are the building blocks of Armenian society, His Holiness said, stressing the importance of building up our homeland at this crucial junction in our history and highlighting that the homeland is permanent and our values eternal, while governments are temporary. He concluded his address with an appeal for unity and strenthening the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial integrity of Armenia.
“The Geopolitics of Religion”
On Friday, November 10th, 2023, the Catholicos gave a lecture on the geopolitics of religion in the Middle East, in George Washington University. His Holiness was introduced by Aram Gavoor, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, who highlighted his role in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.
The Catholicos began with an overview of the growing role of religion in societal life and its impact on geopolitical relations, he said that, at times, it has been exploited for political gain or in ideological struggles.
He then moved on to discuss key aspects of the three monotheistic religions and related topics, including faith and reason; the intersection of religion and politics, and the dual role of religion in both unifying and dividing societies.
In the second part of the lecture, he focused on the Middle East, emphasizing the importance of mutual trust; the pursuit of peace grounded in justice; the establishment of democratic governance; the opposition to radical movements, and the need for cooperation to face common challenges.
As he wrapped up his talk, His Holiness said representatives of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths often meet in interreligious fora all over the world. The challenge, he said, was to have them get together in Jerusalem, a holy for all three.
In the concluding remarks, His Holiness posed a challenge for representatives of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions to meet in Jerusalem, their shared Holy Land, to renew their commitment to collective values and principles, symbolizing a potential for a new era of peace in the Middle East.
Meeting of Executive Councils
His Holiness Catholicos Aram I presided over the meeting of the three Prelates of North America, Archbishop Anoushavan (Eastern Prelacy), Archbishop Papken (Canadian Prelacy), and Bishop Torkom (Western Prelacy), and the leadership of the Executive Councils of the three Prelacies in Washington D.C. on Thursday, November 9. Mr. Stepan Ter Bedrosian, co-chair of the Executive Council of the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia, was also in attendance.
His Holiness underscored the imperative of revitalizing the prelacies within the scope of the reorganization of the Diaspora. He made various remarks and suggested the need for planning.
Issues of inter-prelacy cooperation, by-laws, the youth, Christian education, and others were discussed during the meeting.