HOLINESS KAREKIN II
His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was born in 1951 in the village of Voskehat, near Etchmiadzin, Armenia; to Grigor and Khatun Nersissyan. He was given the baptismal name of Ktrij. He received his elementary education in his native village, and in 1965, he entered the Gevorkyan Theological Seminary in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, where he graduated with distinction. Upon graduation he taught New Testament Studies and was an Assistant at the Seminary. He was ordained to the Diaconate on 25 December 1970, the Feast Day of St. Stephen the proto-martyr. In 1972, he was ordained a celibate priest in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin; by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, and given the priestly name of Karekin. Following his ordination, Catholicos Vazken I, of Blessed Memory, arranged for Father Karekin to pursue a broad-based higher religious education at the Faculty of Divinity in Vienna, Austria, the University of Bonn, and finally the Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary of St. Sergius Monastery, of the Russian Orthodox Church. Returning to Armenia, he was appointed to serve as the assistant to the Vicar General of the Araratian Pontifical Diocese in 1980. In April 1983, he was appointed to serve as the Vicar General of the Diocese. In October of the same year, he was ordained a Bishop and in 1992, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. In 1990, he was a candidate to the Armenian legislature. During his service as Vicar to the Pontifical Diocese, he launched several initiatives, which have served as building blocks for the early days of his Pontificate. In 1989, he founded the Vazkenian Theological Academy at Lake Sevan, a five-year course of study prior to their entrance to the Gevorkyan Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin, where they would then study for one additional year. In an effort to reach out to the youth of the newly independent nation, he acquired three of the former Communist “Youth Pioneer Palaces” in 1993, and they were converted into church-sponsored youth centers for after-school religious and artistic education and activities for young men and women. They were renamed the Armenian Church Youth Centers (Hayortats Tun) Bishop Karekin also identified the need for a Christian Education Center (CEC) in early 1991, to organize Christian education trainings, seminars, and courses in public and Sunday schools throughout the Armenia. In 1995, Archbishop Karekin founded Shoghakat Television to produce videos on archival and educational materials, to spread the message of the Christian faith within the tradition of the Armenian Church. In 1995, Archbishop Karekin Nersissian was a candidate in the Catholicossal Elections, but he withdrew his candidacy in favor of Catholicos Karekin I, of blessed memory. In 1998, the late Catholicos appointed him as Catholicossal Vicar General. He has served as a member of the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Catholicosate of All Armenians, starting in 1990 until 1999. On October 27, 1999, as a result of closed secret ballot election held in the Cathedral of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Archbishop Karekin Nersissian was elected the 132nd Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and was consecrated on November 4, 1999.
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Since his election, His Holiness has addressed the difficult tasks of restructuring and reorganizing of internal church life, revitalizing the theological seminaries of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, strengthening Christian education, and reconstructing churches and monasteries. Special emphasis has been placed on the preparation of a new generation of clergy to serve Armenian faithful throughout the world.
Shortly following his enthronement, His Holiness’ first pilgrimage was made to Jerusalem to visit the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the community, and pray at the Holy Shrines, and Churches. During his stay, he presided over the Christmas Celebrations in the Holy City. His Holiness has made a Pontifical visit at least once to each of the nearly 40 Armenian Church Diocese and numerous Armenian communities throughout the world. During his visits he has met with the Armenian community leaders and members, offering his spiritual message and blessings to the faithful flock. He has also met with world and religious leaders in each of the various countries, and presided during special events. Placing importance on the fostering of ecumenical ties, His Holiness has paid visits to and received, the sister churches and their heads, among them – the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church of Finland, the Anglican Church, the Ecumenical Partriarchate, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, as well as leadership and representatives of numerous ecumenical organizations. His Holiness has held numerous meetings and visitations with the representatives and heads of other religions. During a tri-lateral meeting held in Baku Azerbaijan (April 2010), with His Holiness Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; His Holiness Karekin II; and Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, the Spiritual Leader of Moslems of the Caucasus; the three leaders signed a joint declaration pledging support for peace-making dialogue for Nagorno Karabagh. His Holiness Karekin II is the highest ranking representative of the Armenian people to visit Azerbaijan since independence from the Soviet Union. His Holiness has participated, attended, spoken at, and/or hosted, a wide variety of peace initiatives and forums, world and spiritual leadership conferences, and ecumenical gatherings. The delegates to the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in November 2013, in Busan, South Korea, elected His Holiness Karekin II, to serve as one of eight Presidents to the World Council for Churches, for an eight year term. In September of 2013, His Holiness achieved a significant milestone in the internal life of the Armenian church, when he opened a Synod of the bishops of the Armenian Church, which for the first time, was convened with the participation of the colleges of bishops of both the Catholicosate of All Armenians and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.
Numerous newly built churches have been consecrated, foundations of new churches have been blessed, and reconstruction of historic monasteries and monastic complexes has been completed during the leadership of His Holiness. In September 23, 2001, His Holiness consecrated the St. Gregory the Illuminator Mother Cathedral in Yerevan as part of the celebrations for the 1700th Anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia. The Cathedral, which bears the stamp of three Armenian Pontiffs, is the largest Armenian Church in the world. During his pontificate, His Holiness Karekin II has initiated a most ambitious program of construction and renovation at the Mother See:
|The Gate of St. Gregory the Illuminator
and Open Air Altar of St. Drtad
|Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Library
and Research Center
|Gevorkyan Seminary Events Auditorium||Brotherhood Residence|
|Church of the Holy Archangels||Catholicos Karekin I Spiritual Education Center|
|St. Vartan Mamigonian and St. John the Baptist Baptistry||General Operations Center|
|Chancellery Building of the Catholicosate||Refectory|
|Gevorg VI Ecumenical Centre||Yerevan Pontifical Residence|
Pontifical Events Center – Scheduled to open in 2016
Candle Hall and Pontifical Burial Tomb – Scheduled to open in 2017
|Mother Cathedral and Museum||Old Pontifical Residence and Museum|
|Gevorkyan Theological Seminary||Diaconal Residence|
|Khrimian Museum||Ruben Sevak Museum|
|Guest House||Pontifical Residence|
|Printing House and Bookstore||Monastic “Yeremyan” Cells|
His building activities have also included projects in the city of Vagharashapat – the Vagharhshpat Dental Clinic, Eurnekian Public School and Kindergarten, Nercessian Forest and Public Children’s Playground, and a Retirement Home for the Aged
Among numerous important and vital steps taken during the pontificate of His Holiness is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian Church, in March 2000, which clarifies and regulates the Church-State relationship. Within the framework of the memorandum, a Cooperative Agreement on the spiritual service of the Armenian Church in the National Army of the Republic of Armenia was signed in September 2000, which established the field of spiritual service in the armed forces. Additionally, an agreement was signed in August 2002, stating that Armenian Church History will be taught in all public schools of the Republic. And finally, in 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed which delineates the spiritual service activities by the Department of Prison Chaplaincy in the penitentiary institutions of Armenia. He continued his previous work with the youth by expanding the Armenian Church Youth Centers (Hayortyats Dun), which operate in Etchmiadzin, Ashtarak, Gyumri, Vanadzor and in Yerevan: Nork, Malatia and Arabkir) as well as the Kanaker Miniature Art Center, and are supported and funded by the AGBU. The soup kitchens that had been established by the church were added and expanded, and they are included as a service component to teach volunteerism in the Youth Centers. The Mer Hooys Nakashian Children’s Home operates under the auspices of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, with the support of the Western Diocese of North America, and serves orphans and needy or at-risk children. A project on which he placed great importance was the Izmirlyan Medical Center and St. Nerses the Great Research Center in Yerevan. The existing hospital was given to the Mother See in 2001, and in 2013 was completely remodeled, with a new wing added. The hospital aims to provide free medical service, examinations and consultations to special groups and at-risk patients, and provides medical out-reach to the regions.
Building a Future
During the first year of his pontificate, His Holiness founded the Theological-Armenological Center, named after His Holiness Karekin I, of blessed memory. It is housed in the Vatche and Tamar Manukian Library and Research Center. The Library and Center are open to the public, and are used by scholars and students alike. The vast wealth of information also greatly contributes to the strengthening of scientific and theological thought of the Brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin. His Holiness has placed great emphasis on the preparation of new clergy. Through his efforts, the spiritual education institutions of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, have seen a revival – both the Vaskenyan and Gevorkyan seminaries have seen extensive expansion to their programs as well as the facilities. The Trpanjyan Theological High School Academy was opened in the monastic complex of Harijavank, and takes the place of the Gyumri Seminary, providing theological education to the northern regions of Armenia. In 2002, he established an Accelerated Priest Preparation course, a 3 year program offered to those who wish to enter the priesthood, and have already obtained a Bachelors degree. Through the initiative of His Holiness, a Liturgical Committee was established in August of 2010; comprised of representatives from the Catholicosate of All Armenians, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The goal of the Liturgical Committee of the Armenian Church is directed at strengthening the basic functions of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church, by addressing the challenges of reformation of liturgical services. His Holiness moved the Shoghakat studio from Yerevan to the Mother See following his elections, expanding their scope and mission. In the years following, the station became officially accepted by the Republic of Armenia’s National Commission of TV and Radio, opened the Shoghakat Television Studios complex in Yerevan, and was awarded the use of the local Armenian broadcast frequency channel of 47 in 2011.
His Holiness has also promoted the use of social media and the internet to provide fundamental information on the past, present and future of the world-wide Armenian Apostolic Church to all the hierarchal Sees, Diocese, Parishes, Clergy, and Faithful. In addition to an official website and social media pages for the Mother See, many departments and division of the Mother See also now operate websites and social media pages. In support of the arts, the annual “Let There Be Light” Award was established by His Holiness in 2012 as part of the Golden Apricot Annual International Film Festival, to award worthy individuals for illustrating the spiritual, cultural and humanitarian values, and for bringing a significant contribution to the global film world. In 2015, he established the awarding of yearly Pontifical University Scholarships, granted to students studying in Armenia, who earn high achievements during their studies. He has overseen important events in the life of the Armenian Church – celebrations, services and events in honor of the 1700th Anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the state religion in Armenia; the blessing and consecration of three Holy Muron’s; and on the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Canonization of the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. To facilitate the strengthening of the church, he created a new level within the church’s hierarchical structure, the Armenian Church Representative Assembly; which has yielded the landmark, “Guidelines for Diocesan Bylaws of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church”. And His Holiness has ordained more than 350 new Priests and 27 new Bishops.
Honors and Awards
His Holiness Karekin II is a member of the Board of Trustees of the “Hayastan” All Armenian Fund, an Honorary Member of the Board of Directors of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), and President of the “Friends of the Matenadaran Benevolent Fund, as well as President of the “Friends of Holy Etchmiadzin” charitable foundation. His Holiness has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the State University of Artsakh, the Academy of the Directorate, Yerevan State University, and the Pontifical University of Salesian, Rome Italy. The UN International Academy of Information, and the National Academy of Sciences in the Republic of Armenia made him an Honorary Member. His Holiness has also been awarded the Bethlehem-2000 Insignia of Jordan; the Star of Romania; Duke Yaroslav the Wise 5th Degree of Ukraine; the Order of Commander of the Legion of Honor of France; the St. Andrew the Apostle Order of the Russian Orthodox Church; the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation; the St. Gregory the Illuminator Medal from the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic; the St. Mersrop Mashtots Order, from the Republic of Armenia; the Alexy II Award from the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations; and the Commander Vazgen Sargsyan Award, by the Volunteer Defenders Union.