Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian, Primate of the Armenian Church of the United Kingdom Speech at Parliamentary Breakfast
On 21st November, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian spoke to attending MP's at the Parliamentary Breakfast after Holy Communion.
This is a once-monthly event whereby Canon Robert Wright, 78th Speaker's Chaplain, invites religious dignitaries from different Churches to partake in the Parliamentary Service and later address the Members of Parliament.
The talk was followed by a Q&A session that dealt with the current realities of the Armenian Church, issues relating to the Armenian Genocide and Karabagh.
Canon Robert Wright, Esteemed Members of Parliament :
First and foremost, I would like to thank Canon Robert Wright for having invited me to be speaker this morning at your Parliamentary breakfast after Holy Communion.
When invited to be here, I chose to share with you for the space of a few short minutes a vignette of my own Armenian Church - a church whose realities span a historical period of over 1700 years, from the year 301 AD when St Gregory the Enlightener witnessed Armenia become the first nation-state to adopt Christianity as state religion, to the 1600th anniversary of St Mesrop Mashtots who created our Armenian 36-letter alphabet in 406 AD, to the Golden Age for Armenia, and finally to our present times in the third millennium and the early stages of the 21st century.
I do not wish to encumber you for too long with our ecclesiastical structures, not when I have all of ten minutes this morning! But let me just mention that the Armenian Church, member of the Oriental Orthodox family, is headed today by HH Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and based at Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia. It is the spiritual Mother See across all Armenian hierarchies, and is endowed with several spiritual and administrative bodies that represent its authority.
Indeed, from the National Ecclesiastical Assembly to the various Councils and Brotherhoods, the Armenian Church remains one of the foremost and primary references for 9 million Armenians across the world - whether in the Republic of Armenia, independent since 1991, or in the Diaspora. In Armenia itself, the relationship between the Government of the Republic and the Armenian Church is clearly regulated by a recent law legislating the rights and responsibilities of both parties. As lawmakers, looking at Articles 7 & 8* alone, would help you realise that the Church plays a major role in the cultural and educational levers of the country, and is co-responsible for some of the scholastic curricula and textbooks within its remit.
One distinctive characteristic of my Church is that, unlike many other Churches, its supreme leader is elected by the clergy and laity alike. In other words, lay men and women have a role in selecting their shepherd. This approach in democracy, I am sure you will agree with me, strengthens the bonds between clergy and laity as it engages both sides in the life, witness and renewal of the Church rather than isolate one party in a white tower at the expense of the other.
There are roughly 9 million Armenians world-wide. The majority, I am proud to add, preserve their Armenian identity even as they integrate quite comfortably and successfully in their host countries. Broadly speaking, Armenians rely on three fundamental axes for the nourishment of their identity. Those axes are their faith (therefore their Church), their language (therefore Armenian), and their education (therefore their schools). In my own diocese in the UK for instance, and as Canon Wright is quite aware, Armenians are close to their Church structures through their representation in the Armenian Community & Church Council of Great Britain. They are also by and large Armenian native speakers in their own homes and with their own families even though many of them are also native British citizens in centres of Armenian presence such as in London, Manchester, etc. They are also faithful to their weekly Saturday and Sunday schools as their young children are enrolled to learn about their language, religion, scouting, customs, social and cultural activities.
But when I speak of my people in the Armenian Diaspora, comprising almost half of the overall number of nine million, it is also fitting to recall that many of them are living in the Diaspora because they were chased out of their own homes and lands during the genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks under the cover of WWI. All you need to do is read the powerful and academically-sanctioned Blue Book (as you would call it in parliamentary circles) authored by Arnold Toynbee & Lord Bryce upon the request of Government in order to feel the victims of this genocide as well as their children, grand-children and great grand-children calling out for your support - whether through Early Day Motions, Private Members' Bills, grassroots' lobbies or pressure upon HM Government to recognise this event or at least not oppose it and foil all attempts to recognise it. We Armenians struggle to show recollection and homage to the victims of this genocide - including hundreds of clergy from our Church who became martyrs - by recognising their painful death so that we could live - and live in freedom here and now. Perhaps you would help remind our Prime Minister that Hitler himself said to his generals as he planned the horrors of the Holocaust and an attack on Poland, "After all, who remembers the Armenians today"? Indeed, who does - from Armenians to Rwandans and Darfurians today?
Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus said to St Thomas, "You saw and therefore you believed. Happy are those who believe without seeing". In Armenian, we have paraphrased this adding that it is better to see something once than to hear about it seven times! I would therefore like to encourage you all to get to know us better by travelling to Armenia, our fatherland, and enjoying not only our history and culture, but also the budding beauty of our country and its open hospitality.
May the Lord bless your political work, inspire and protect you, and may He always be the example you carry in your hearts.
* Article VII - Cultural Institutions belonging to the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church
The government of the Republic of Armenia shall delineate the amount and purpose of state assistance for the protection and enrichment of cultural institutions, collections, museums, libraries and archives which are the property of the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church and constitute a part of the national cultural inheritance, in the proposed annual state budget, having previously discussed it with the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church.
Article VIII - Role of the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church in the Educational Sphere
1. The Holy Apostolic Armenian Church has the right to:
a) Establish or sponsor kindergarten (pre-school) institutions, elementary, secondary and high schools, specialty colleges and institutions of higher learning, within the framework of the legislation of the Republic of Armenia.
b) Participate in the preparation of the scholastic curriculum and textbooks for "Armenian Church History" courses within state educational institutions, the defining of minimum requirements of instructors of said subject, and to present prospective instructors to the schools.
c) To organize voluntary scholastic courses within state educational institutions, utilizing their buildings and resources, coordinating the issues regarding the realization of courses with said institutions.
d) Contribute to the spiritual education of society within educational institutions according to the scope of the law.
2. Scholastic institutions established by the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church shall receive the same assistance that the state provides to other private institutions.
3. The state guarantees the implementation of the right to a religious education on a voluntary basis.
4. The official communications of the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church shall be reported by mass media outlets without alteration.