The End of the Beginning: The Church in Armenia

Window view of the Armenian Church, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1992

The Church in Armenia

by Hratch Tchilingirian

It is the end of the beginning-the euphoria that began with
the freedom and independence of Armenia is over. Instead, hardship, struggle
and anxiety have become part of everyday living in Armenia. For better
or worse, a new era, a new "world order" has commenced in the history of
the Armenian nation.

Against this backdrop, in the next few pages, I will present a
series of conversations which I had in Armenia during a March 1992
visit. The conversations draw a wide perspective on the post-
independence development of religious freedom in Armenia and its
ramifications in the life of the Armenian Church.

Like the new Republic of Armenia, the dynamics and
development of events in the Church are fascinating and yet at the same time
depressing and hopeless.

Like every institution in the new Republic, the Church also
finds itself unprepared and inadequate to serve the basic needs of the people.

However, the church is the only institution which has not
collapsed. The irony is that unless it collapses, it will not revive. The old
must fall in order to build the new one. The institutional church is the Berlin
of Armenia-the Wall must come down if we ever want to see the light
behind it.

While changes in political conventions and structure and
uncertainties in a new country allow mistakes to be made, the incompetence
and complacency of leadership are more harmful and devastating to an
institution than any of its shortcomings. Leaders are not only accountable to those
who they lead, but they are accountable to history as well.

The conversations presented in the following pages speak for
themselves. As a whole, they enumerate very concrete and specific
problems. The voice of desperation could be heard in all of them and yet the
question remains whether anything is being done?

While each institution in Armenia is attempting to tackle its
daily problems, the church is dormant, except for some incidental or ad hoc panacea
dispensed to issues that are bound to reoccur, if not treated seriously.

Many would say that identifying the problems in the church
is the easiest thing to do. I would add that finding solutions is even easier. The
difficulty is accepting the reality, i.e. the fact that we have problems that need
immediate attention. By problems I do not mean the Catholics and the Protestants
or the cults. They are peripheral problems and will remain peripheral if
we do our job. By problems I mean the apostolic mission of the church vis a
vis the hierarchs, the clergy and the faithful.

Today, the urgency to move from a discretionary leadership
to a participatory leadership cannot be underestimated. The
deficiencies of individual idiosyncrasy can and must be overcomed by
collective "team" leadership. Around the globe, the personality cult of the
Cold War era is quickly changing into "team" effort. As the rapid changes in
the world constantly redefine the variables of leadership, the success of
leaders are being measured not by what they can do individually, but by
what kind of a team and ministry they can create. Perhaps the beginning of
this process is the resurrection of the Synod of Bishops and/or the National
Ecclesiastical Assembly. Unless issues are discussed on the highest level
of the Church, we will remain ill for a very long time. The Armenian
Church is expected to cater to the needs of several million Armenians.
As such, we cannot continue behaving as if we are running a parish or a small diocese.

The time to face our problems is next week, next month, in three months the
most... not next year, next anniversary, next decade....

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