BEIRUT, JAN. 10, 2001 (ZENIT.org).- One thousand seven hundred years
have passed since Armenia embraced Christianity officially, becoming
the first country in history to take this step.
This is a very important anniversary, which Nerses Bedros XIX,
Patriarch of Catholic Armenians, celebrated with greetings from the
Patriarchal See of Bzmmar in Lebanon, to all Armenians residing in
their homeland or spread around the world because of the diaspora.
The text written by Patriarch Nerses, refers to that Gospel that was
welcomed 17 centuries ago by his people, discovering in it the "Way"
for the people, the "Truth" that has remained intact, and the "Life,"
which has been transmitted through generations over all these years.
According to the Patriarch, the Jubilee of the Armenian people, which
began on January 1, "must not just be a date for self-glorification
or complacency for having been the first nation to embrace
Christianity as the State religion." On the contrary, the Armenian
leader hopes that it will be the motive for all Armenia's Christians
to undergo profound interior renewal in their spiritual and daily
Bishop Vartan Boghossian, Apostolic Exarch for Armenian faithful in
Latin America, wrote a letter to the faithful of his Eparchy
announcing that John Paul II "will publish a document in memory of
this historic event, because Armenia was officially, in fact, the
first Christian country."
The Vatican City State is also preparing a series of commemorative
medals. Moreover, in the presence of John Paul II, a ceremony will be
held on February 18 in the Vatican Basilica with Patriarch Nerses
The highlight of the Catholic celebrations should be the Pope's visit
to Armenia, which was announced before the Catholic Christmas by
Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, this news
is yet to be confirmed by the Vatican.
In A.D. 301, the kingdom of Armenia became the first state to adopt
Christianity as a state religion, a decade before Constantine
extended Christianity to the Roman Empire. Today, after 70 years of
Communist rule, many Armenians have lost touch with their religion.
Karekin II hopes that this event will serve to return religion to the
day-to-day life of Armenians, according to Radio FreeEurope/Radio
Under the previous Catholicos, Karekin I, the Armenian Apostolic
Church reached a joint Christological statement with the Catholic
Church. As a result, the primacy of the Pope is the primary obstacle
to reestablishing union with this ancient Church, which became
separated from Rome during the debates over monophysitism, which
culminated in the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon by this
Oriental Orthodox Church in 501.
John Paul II had scheduled a visit to Armenia for July of 1999, but
the ultimately terminal illness of the Catholicos, whom he had met in
Rome twice before, made that trip impossible. He met in Rome with
Karekin II on November 9 of last year, resulting in another joint
Christological statement. In that meeting, the possibility of a vist
to Armenia for John Paul II was left open, and afterwards Karekin
indicated that the visit would indeed take place.
"Together we confess our faith in the Triune God and in one Lord
Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who became man for our salvation,"
reads the statement. "We also believe in One, Catholic, Apostolic and
Holy Church. The Church, as the Body of Christ, indeed, is one and
unique. This is our common faith, based on the teachings of the
Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. We acknowledge furthermore
that both the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church have true
sacraments, above all -- by apostolic succession of bishops -- the
priesthood and the Eucharist. We continue to pray for full and
visible communion between us. The liturgical celebration we preside
over together, the sign of peace we exchange and the blessing we give
together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, testify that we are
brothers in the episcopacy. Together we are jointly responsible for
what is our common mission: to teach the apostolic faith and to
witness to the love of Christ for all human beings, especially those
living in difficult circumstances."
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