Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan was born in Aleppo, Syria. In 1960 he was accepted into the Cilician See’s Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon and was ordained a priest on June 4, 1967. As a newly ordained celibate priest, Archbishop Oshagan served as an assistant at the Seminary and he taught at the Mardigian School, serving two years as principal of the school. From 1968 to 1970 he attended the American University of Beirut, where he majored in history. From 1974 to 1978 he attended Princeton Theological Seminary where he majored in education and psychology, earning a Master’s Degree. Continuing his studies at Princeton, he earned a second Masters in the history of the church. In April 1980, he was appointed pontifical legate to Kuwait and the Arab Emirates. He was elevated to the rank of bishop in 1994. Since 1998, he serves as the Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America.

When elected Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy in May of 1998, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan’s first priority was to visit each parish. This involved extensive traveling along the East Coast, the Midwest, and Canada, since in 1998 the Canadian churches were still under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Prelacy.

When elected Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy in May of 1998, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan’s first priority was to visit each parish. This involved extensive traveling along the East Coast, the Midwest, and Canada, since in 1998 the Canadian churches were still under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Prelacy.

Certainly, he was no stranger to North America and the parishes therein. Having attended Princeton Theological Seminary for a number of years, and having served the Prelacy in various capacities during those years, he was familiar with the community. Yet, as he recalls now, it was a totally different feeling. “I felt responsible for each of the parishes I visited, and felt a duty toward each and every one of our faithful members.”

The primary impression he received was the vital need to strengthen our parishes, and he immediately decided this would be a priority during his tenure as Prelate. Since 1998 he has spent considerable time on programs and events to help strengthen local parishes.

Parish development became a popular and frequent topic during the National Representative Assemblies. The Executive Council went on the road, so to speak, taking their monthly meetings out of New York and into different regions. Seminars for boards of trustees were organized at regional locations. Most of all, Archbishop Oshagan listened to and examined the challenges and problems that were facing our parishes.

The necessity for strong leadership became crystal clear in Oshagan Srpazan’s mind as he noted that those parishes with dynamic, educated clergymen at the helm, were the parishes that were thriving. When he came into office, a number of clergymen were approaching retirement, and some parishes were without a full time priest. He immediately plunged himself into the task of clergy recruitment, clergy training, and advanced education for clergy currently serving within the Eastern Prelacy. Largely due to his efforts, a number of funds were established specifically to fund programs for clergy recruitment and education. Today, nine years later, many of the parishes have a new generation of clergy serving, and only one parish and four outreach communities do not have a permanent clergyman.

“A religious community is only as strong as the clerical leaders ministering to it,” says Archbishop Oshagan. “A strong pastor makes a strong parish. In our ever-challenging society, community cohesiveness begins in the home and is extended to the church. We have embarked on a concerted effort to recruit qualified, young men for the clergy—dedicated men who are trained to lead and inspire, who understand the complex needs of our youth and are qualified to give them spiritual guidance. Once ordained, continuing education and development are vital for the growth of our parishes.”

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Archbishop Oshagan, a group of far-sighted individuals have come forth with their financial support that provides scholarship aid to both seminarians on the road to fulfilling their calling, and ordained priests who are continuing their higher education.
“We have made progress,” Archbishop Oshagan notes, “but we still have a long way to go. And in truth this must be an ongoing effort, because we must continually attract young qualified candidates.”

Entering The Seminary

By 1959, young Manoog knew that he wanted to enter the Seminary and devote his life to the Armenian Church. “The church was such a constant and strong part of our early life in our home,” he says. He recalls how he and his brothers would “play church.” “My brothers would be Tbirs (sub-deacon), one would do the incensing (pourvar), the other the readings, and I would take the offering,” he recalls as he leans back in his chair and laughs.

“I think my parents were aware of my desire even before I was. My brothers would always work during the summers, but my parents would not send me to work. I realize now that they must have seen something in me and they wanted me to spend my summers studying rather than working.”In 1960 he was accepted into the Cilician See’s Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon. He had been singing in the local church in Aleppo since he was five years old and the church hierarchy was aware of his talent. When Hayr Smpad Lapajian (later Archbishop and Prelate of the Western Prelacy) came to test his musical abilities, which is part of the entrance exam, he said, “I don’t have to hear him. I know his voice. He sings better than I do.”

Manoog Choloyan was ordained a deacon in 1964, and a celibate priest on June 4, 1967, and given the new name Oshagan, by Bishop Karekin Sarkissian, who in 1994 as Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia, ordained him to the Episcopal rank. In 1998, His Holiness Aram I elevated him to the rank of Archbishop.

“It is interesting that all of my ordinations were officiated by Catholicos Karekin II, at various stations of his life. He was the dean when I entered the Seminary. He presided over my ordination to the diaconate, to the priesthood, and my ordination as a Bishop. He was definitely a great influence on me during my seminary days and beyond. He was very inspiring and, of course, his speaking and writing abilities are legendary. His death was a great loss for the Armenian Church and nation.”

At the time of his entrance into the Seminary, Zareh I was the Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia. “We were in awe of this gentle Christian. His sudden death at a young age plunged all of us at the Seminary in deep mourning. I will never forget those tragic days.”At the Seminary, Deacon Hrair Ashjian was assigned to advise his class. “He was an extremely kind person and always kept us busy with all sorts of activities. We were always working on one project or another, especially plays and dramatic presentations. Of course, Deacon Hrair, went on to take his vows and was given the name Mesrob. We remained good friends thereafter. His death in 2003 was a great personal loss for me, and even more so for the entire Armenian nation.”

Surprisingly, young Manoog immediately felt at home in the Seminary. “My family was still in Aleppo, but I felt that I had another family in Antelias. Looking back I do not recall ever feeling homesick. I was home.”

The teachers at the Seminary who made a lasting impression included Deacon Hrair Ashjian, Hayr Karekin Sarkissian, Kevork Kandaharian, Yetvart Dasnabedian, Yervant Pamboukian, Puzant Yeghiayan, Khoren Kapikian, and Moushegh Ishkhan. All of them were devoted Armenians and talented teachers.

Ecumenical Service

Archbishop Oshagan has been involved with the worldwide ecumenical movement since the earliest days of his service. He has been a member of the Middle East Council of Churches since 1979, serving for several years on the executive committee. He has served as a delegate to the World Council of Churches Assembly, and he has participated in many ecumenical meetings throughout the world representing the Holy See of Cilicia. Most recently he was elected chairman of the newly formed organization of the churches of the Middle East in the United States. Throughout his service to the Armenian Church he has been guided by his intense faith in the mission of the church and his dedication to the Armenian nation, always guided by the words of St. Paul, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” His Eminence has also been an active participant in the Catholic Church-Oriental Orthodox Churches international Joint Committee for the Theological Dialogue.