Storm Over the Holy Armenian Church

Posted on December. 14. 2019

By Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian

“Who seeds wind,
shall harvest storm”.
A Dutch proverb

In 301 A.D., by the grace of St. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia became the first country in the world to embrace Christianity as its state religion. A daring move, to say the least, when they were still surrounded by a sea of pagan nations. Moreover, Armenia was outside the Roman Empire and, therefore, an open field to conquest and conversion.
In 428 A.D., the Sassanid Persians took over eastern Armenia and attempted to impose Zoroastrianism on them, giving rise to a brave rebellion. Despite being outnumbered, the Armenians waged war against the oppression, and eventually, in 484 A.D., the Persians agreed to a treaty granting them religious freedom. So, Christianity is deeply ingrained in the heritage of the Armenian people. The Holy Armenian Church has been dear to the hearts of Armenians for the millennia even the pride and joy of most worshipers.
Since 484 A.D., the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church has had a checkered history, but has never given up their faith when confronted by various brutal conquerors over the years. As a result, Armenians have built more churches for the per capita worshipers than any nation in the world. Currently, it is facing critical challenges like most Christian churches are going through. Let us explore some of them after a brief introduction to what is happening to Christian faith and churches around the world.
As you well know, Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and the teachings of a pious man called Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament. Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and some neighboring areas such as in Armenia in the fist centuries A.D. Despite being persecuted for the new faith until the 4th century, this religion gained official recognition by the Roman Emperors.
Half a dozen of centuries after the establishment of Christianity, a new aggressive religion came on the horizon. Beginning with a series of revelations received by the Prophet Mohammed around 610 A.D., the new faith of Islam rapidly gained followers in the Arabian Peninsula. In a matter of a few decades, Islam became the primary competitor, or rather the antagonistic rival, of Christianity. By adhering to warsome Jihad, the holy armed struggle to convert the disbelivers (i.e., primarily the rich and the resourceful Christians) to Islam, they have established a vast swathe of territory from Persia to Spain and from Palestine to Armenia.
In general, Christianity is experiencing many problems. Among the pressing challenges, are the dwindling churchgoers around the world, the fragmentation of the faith into multiple denominations, outrageous sex scandals, homosexuality, same sex marriages, abortion, and the move toward secularism to mention a few critical problems. Hardly a day passes without the disconcerting news of a clerical abusing its power by molesting a youngster. Of all the faiths around the world, Christianity has a lion’s share of scandals.
Currently, Christianity is the largest religion in the world (2.4 billion). Islam is surpassing Christianity by leaps and bounds in terms of growth, though. It is the world’s second-largest religion consisting of 1.9 billion followers (or 24.4 percent of the world’s population) and they are commonly referred to as Muslims. Pakistan is the highest growing Muslim nation in the world. Over all, Christians have low fertility rate of around 1.7 ( 2.1 is the minimum for survival), while the Muslims have about 3.2 rate of fertility). Christianity is definitely losing ground to Islam in terms of population growth. If the trend of low fertility continues, Christian nations, including Armenia, will commit ethnic suicide within fifty years.
Muslim populations are rapidly growing in Western Europe and in the other Western countries as well. It is estimated that there are 16 million Muslims in the United States and 60 million in Europe. Presently, Armenia has a small, albeit rapidly growing, Muslim population of Iranian Azaris including some quasi Muslim Yazidis. Recently, Yazidis have built their world’s largest temple in Armenia. Presently, they are a dormant volcano with an explosive growth potential. Islam is preached actively in the United States and most famous athletes like Mohamed Ali, Mike Tyson, to cite a few have already converted to Islam. On account of their rapid growth, they will be a social and political force to contend with in the United States, Europe, and to a lesser degree in Armenia, in a matter of a few decades.
Since the ascent of Islam in 610 A.D., the religion grew exponentially through conquests and forced conversion. For example, it is estimated that there are anywhere from 500 thousand to 5 million hidden Armenians in Turkey today. They were forced to convert to Islam in order to save their lives during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. Presently, a few hidden Armenians are reverting to Christianity and to their original ethnicity. Unfortunately, for some reason, Etchmiadzin is not encouraging the hidden Armenians to become baptized there; instead, they are being asked to go to the Istanbul patriarchy to be reconverted.
German social scientists expect Germany to become a Muslim state within 35 years. After WWII, Germany opened its doors to an influx of foreign labor mainly from the Middle Eastern countries. Today, they are beginning to control the government by insisting on the use of Shariah law (Quoranic Law) for the Muslim population there. The future of Christianity is dim, signs of extinction are hovering on the horizon.
The Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia and in the Diaspora are also having problems. There is a storm brewing over the Church for many people are angry at some of the high-ranking clergymen’s misconducts. Allegedly, at the top of the list of serious offenders stand Karekin II (the Catholicos of All Armenians), Arch. Hovnan Derderian (Western Diocese) and Arch. Yezras Nersisyan (Russia Diocese).
Here are some of the challenges confronting the Armenian Church for a food for thought or for a forum on one of Armenia’s most valued cultural aspects of its long heritage:
Millennial Generation Apathy. Millennials were born between 1982 and 2000. They are the largest generation in the workforce because of their birth years. Millennials are the children of the baby boomers. We shall see that they posses several important qualities and characteristics different from their past generations.
Like the Christian churches around the world, Armenian Churches are also experiencing a decline in church attendance. Millennials are becoming more secular compared to their fathers who were the first descendants of the survivors of the Genocide. During the Soviet rule, religion was deemphasized in Armenia as well, although they had some of their churches working. As a consequence, a lot of young people grew up in a secular environment in the Soviet Union. What could be done creative to attract the millennials away from their electronic gadgets, to energize them about religion, to get them attend church is a tough question. They are addicted to the Internet, social media, cellular phone to mention a few. Most are comfortable in their usage of digital technologies and social media.
Millennials have hardly any time to go to church. Their aversion to commitment has been well-established through social-psychological studies. Based on recent research findings, Millennials are the FOMO, the “fear of missing out”, generation, preferring to keep options open rather than committing themselves to something or to someone by foreclosing other possibilities. About 91 percent of them expect to stay in a job for less than three years. They are far less likely to be affiliated with a religion or a political party than their parents were. Additionally, they prefer to get married at lower rates and later in life than their parents and grandparents did. As a result, this generation exhibits weak commitment to the local church. The challenge for the church around the world is to make young people to connect and commit to the body of Christ, a herculean task, but not an impossible one.
The Melting Pot. Cultural assimilation is the process whereby a minority group gradually adapts to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing dominant culture and customs. Symbolically, the immigrants go through a melting pot of transformation. This involves language shift, the progressive process whereby a speech community of a language shifts to speaking another language. Armenian kids, born in the United States, begin to speak English even at home. Cultural assimilation, for example, adapting to eating fast food instead of wholesome Armenian food. Armenian assimilation refers to the gradual cultural assimilation and social integration of Armenians in their surrounding culture. Less and less, the new generation of Armenians are attending church in an environment where the dominant US culture is experiencing problems in attracting new worshipers.
Forced Ethnic Assimilation. If a state adheres to a policy of a homogeneous national identity, it may resort to harsh measures to exterminate the minority culture. Faced with resistance or failure, the dominant culture may consider the alternative of physical elimination such as expulsion or even genocide. A good example would be the fate of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. To save their lives during the Genocide of 1915-1923, some had to convert to Islam. Even after the dissolution of the Ottomon Empire, the successor government under the rule of Moustafa Kemal, emphasized “Turkey for the Turks”. In this way, the indigenous minorities of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and others were forced to assimilate in terms of religion, language, and way of life. The result was empty churches, plundered by the Kurds stone by stone to make their own houses and claim that Armenian region as Kurdistan. By the way, we should never forget our brothers and sisters who had chosen to stay in Turkish-occupied Western Armenia. The problem of revitalizing Armenian churches in Turkey is very difficult, only a miracle would make the Suni Turks allow Armenians in the present Turkey worship together in their ancestral churches. However, Armenians are known to be resilient and patient. It is better to dream than to be hopeless.
Interethnic Marriages. In the United States, one out of six marriages is between two different races. Reportedly, some 30,000 Armenian women are married to Azari men. Armenian men and women marrying outside their ethnic group is on the rise, too. This is especially true with the diaspora Armenians. Mix marriages have negative effect on churchgoing especially if the couple belongs to different faith. For example, a Lebanese Armenian woman married an East Indian guy. Despite being a devout Christian, she stopped going to church, for her Indian husband refuses to go to church. Instead, he goes into one of the bedrooms upstairs and meditate for an hour. Girls in Armenia have also shown great preference to marrying European guys. Even though, the husband would be most likely a Christian, but of different denomination while the Armenian wife belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church. More and more, women are dropping out of going to church on Sundays for interethnic marriages demand compromises on religion and on one’s culture.
Sex Preference. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shocked the Armenian nation when in 2013 it reported that Armenia had one of the highest rates of sex-selective abortion in the world. Armenia had 114 boys born for every 100 girls and this imbalance had put it second only to China and Azerbaijan (115.9 and 115.6, respectively) in gender imbalance on account of sex-selective abortions. It has been estimated that 40,000 girls lost to sex-selective abortion over the past 25 years. Although the government in Armenia is taking this problem seriously, the damage done is irreparable. From church attendance perspective, it is the wife in Armenia, the home maker, who gets the family into the church every Sunday. When their numbers are dwindling, so the numbers of churchgoers become less. Sex-selection abortions coupled with low fertility rate in Armenia, the nation would suffer not only from diminished number of worshipers, but as a whole, the country would suffer from a robust growth in population which is a requisite for social, political, and economic advancement.
Sex Scandals. The Christian world cannot ignore the clerical sex abuse crisis enveloping the church. A few years ago, Vatican officials claimed the sex scandal was a local problem in the United States. Then, the accusation became an “English speaking” problem as Ireland and Australia were exposed for their sins. Then, it became a Western problem as Europe was blamed. Now, the problem is gripping Latin America. Next, it will be Asia and Africa. Armenia is also one of the candidates for sex abuses, though not as severe as the United States. It goes without saying, these scandals turn off many individuals from attending church as they would like to otherwise.
Disenchanted Churchgoers. By now most Armenians have either heard or read the disappointing news about some of the clergymen who wallow in sin through word of mouth communications or by reading Armenian publications such as the USA Armenian Life Magazine and its companion Hay Kiank. Most of these people have become turned off by the serious offenders and stop attending church. Armenians expect purity and transparency from their clergymen. The major challenge is how to get them return to the church since church attendance and finances depend on them? Either the offenders redeem themselves by confessing or apologizing for their sins publicly or they are deposed of them from the church by defrocking or outright firing them. The cesspool of corruption has to be cleansed to put an end to the controversy of the Holy Armenian Church keeping offenders in their rank and file.
Against the backdrop of increasingly shrinking Christian population of the world, there are many pressing challenges facing the Christian Churches around the globe. As a subunit of the Christian world, Armenia will also be negatively affected unless they take some creative measures to turn the tide in their favor by, at least, getting rid of the corrupt chergmen who have been wallowing in sin and selfish conduct. And in so doing, the angry churchgoers would be reenergized toward their church.
The Dutch proverb says: “Who seeds wind, shall harvest storm”. There is a similar saying in the Bible: “Sowing the wind, reaping the whirlwind”. Sowing, reaping or harvesting is a common analogy throughout the Bible to demonstrate cause and effect situation in the sense that the direct fruits of our labor, the consequences of our actions depend on what we do in the first place.
There are three major clergymen who are allegedly “seeding” wind and thus raising “storm” over their misconduct. Patriotic Armenians are angry at them. Their shrine is in a holy mess, besieged by egocentric clergymen. They appeal to the offenders’ sense of fair play, either they should shape up or ship out of our age-old churches for the benefit of all Armenians who have been fiercely proud of a long and glorious history of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *