Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
4pm Divine Liturgy. Next: 13th November 2021

Very sadly, the Divine Liturgy in English at 9-30 am on Sundays at the Holy Family Cathedral, Lower Church, have had to be put on hold. Until the practicalities we cannot use the Lower Church space. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon. Please keep checking in here for details.

Owing to public health guidance, masks should still be worn indoors and distance maintained. Sanitisers are available. Holy Communion is distributed in both kinds from the mixed and common chalice, by means of a separate Communion spoon for each individual communicant.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Saturday 30 June 2007

Mountains and Monasteries: A Pilgrimage to Armenia

Alan Watson writes:

In September 2006, I had the privilege of joining the pilgrimage of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association to Armenia, my third with them, having visited Syria and Finland in previous years. Most people looked a bit blank when I mentioned going to Armenia, so there were a few minor history lessons prior to September.

Some History
Armenia, with a population of about 3 million, lies on the southern slopes of the Armenian mountains in the Lesser Caucasus and is bordered by Georgia in the north, Turkey in the west, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south. Armenians combine the sturdiness of mountain folk with an expressively Mediterranean mindset. There's an old saying that the Armenians have their minds in the West but their hearts in the East.

The Armenians first emerged as a distinct people in the 6th century BC. Christianity came, according to tradition, with the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddaeus, and then with Saint Hripsime fleeing Roma and the attentions of the Emperor Diocletian. With the conversion of King Trdat III, Armenia became the first official Christian country in 301. The Armenian Apostolic Church has been a pillar of Armenian identity ever since. Two great names in this period are Saint Gregor the Illuminator (c. 240-332), who converted King Trdat, and Saint Mesrop Mashtot (c. 361-439), whose Armenian alphabet created in 405 was to be another pillar of nationhood. Present day Armenia is only one tenth of Greater Armenia; the other nine tenths are now in Turkey.

In the 19th century many Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire and in 1896 many thousands were massacred. In the 20th century a new regime in Constantinople planned the extermination of Armenians in Turkey and took advantage of World War I to destroy western Armenia. The genocide that resulted is denied by Turkey today, but the inescapable fact is that between 1915 and 1923 one and a half million Ottoman Armenians died. The first independent Armenian republic emerged in 1918, but lost the province of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan; both Armenia and Azerbaijan were incorporated into the USSR in the 1920s.

Independence came in 1991 and the economy collapsed. Earthquakes, war, freezing winters wihtout fuel and no jobs drove one quarter of the population to leave in 15 years. Now there are about 10 million Armenians living abroad.

The 1,700th anniversary of Armenia becoming a Christian state marked something of a turning point in the country's fortunes. Memories of the suffering and upheaval since independence linger on; but the rapid economic revival of recent years - in 2003 Armenia has the fastest gorwing economy in Europe - has reaised spirits.

We flew to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, landing at Zvartnots (place of angels) Airport at about 1 am. Yerevan, with a population of under a million, was founded in 782 BC, when a fortress was built by King Argishi I. The old provincial town was basically rebuilt in 1924 to a master plan. The streets are laid out on a grid system with several ring roads, tree lined avenues and cafe-dotted parks. The city sists in a valley ringed on three sides by hills. To the south it opens out onto the Ararat plan andthe snow-capped peaks of Great Ararat and Little Ararat, now in Turkey.

On our first day in Yerevan we visited the Matenadaran, the library of ancient manuscripts, standing cathedral-like at the top of Yerevan's grandest avenue - Mesrop Mashtot Poghota - the north of the city centre, not far from our hotel. Here are preserved more than 17,000 Armenian manuscripts and 100,000 medieval and modern manuscripts and documents. The first Matenadaran was built by Saint Mesrop Mashtot at Etchmiadzin in the 5th century. The present one dates from 1959 and has a research institute dedicated to preserving and restoring manuscripts attached to it. I was struck by the similarity of many of the designs in the manuscripts with Celtic ones.

From here we drove to Republic Square in the centre of the city. This is the former Lenin Square an is surrounded by Yerevan's finest ensemble ot buildings, particularly the Armenia Marriott Hotel, the National Art Gallery and the State Museum of Armenian History. The square is spacious and the buildings are in a pinkish stone.

Our next stop was Tsitsernakaberd Park, across the River Hrazdan to the west. Here we vistied the memorial and museum commemorating the 1915-1922 genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republican forces. The memorial is a 40 metre spire and a circle of twelve basalt slabs, leaning over to guard an eternal flame. The slabs represent the twelve lost provinces of Western Armenia. The memorial was built in 1967 after unprecedented demonstrations of the 24th April 1965, the 50th anniversary of the genocide. We each liad a white carnation or rose at the eternal flame, said some prayers and sang a hymn.

The museum was built in 1995. Large photographs tell the story of the genocide simply and baldly. There's no effort to demonise the Turkish people; the facts are allowed to speak for themselves. One and a half million trees are planted on the surrounding hillside, one for each person who died.

In the evening we went to the Opera House for a concert of folk dancing. The Opera House was packed with a very enthusiastic audience, many of whom spent a lot of their time involved in flash photgraphy! And the dances, representing struggle and work, were loud and enthusiastic too.

Garni and the Geghard Monastery
Drawing my curtains the next morning, I could look out over the city to the south west and see the sun shining on the snow-capped Great Ararat. After breakfast and Morning Prayer we set off east into the Kotayk province. We climbed out of Yerevan past blocks of flats and then country cottages similar to Russian dachas, in various states of repair. Today, we experienced Armenian roads, good and bad! Landslides meant constant repair; and the money for reconstruction of the road we were on came from a wealthy American Armenian. We drove through rolling, golden hills, terraced against erosion, with the mountains in the distance. We stopped to take photos and to view Mount Ararat in Western Armenia, now part of Turkey. The mountain of Noah's Ark has two peaks, Great Ararat at over 5,000 metres and Little Ararat a little over 4,000 metres.

Garni is about 15-20 miles from Yerevan and is the site of the fortress and summer residence of the 1st century Armenian kings. It is in a gorge of the river Azat and has a fine reguilt 1st century temple, as well as the remains of the 7th century church, and a 3rd century bath-house with a mosaic made of natural stones in 13 colours.

We then drove on a few miles to Geghard Monastery (above/left), named after the Surp Geghard (Holy Lance), the spear that pierced Our Lord's side at the Crucifixion. The monastery stands in a deep canyon and was founded in the 4th century to house the Lance itself, now kept in the Treasury at Etchmiadzin.

The cave church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator dates from the 7th century, the two main churches from the 13th. We also visited two churches hewn from the rock. One date from 1240 and has a small stream of spring water flowing through it. Hundreds of crosses were carved in the rocks, and khatchkars surrounded the monastery. Khatchkars are aparticular feature of Armenian - large stone slabs carved with a cross and other intricate designs, many of them very ancient. Driving back to Garni, we had lunch under the trees in the village before returning to Yerevan.

To Nagorno-Karabakh
On the third day of our pilgrimage we checked out to travel to Nagorno-Karabakh for two nights. Taken apart by word and origin, Nagorno-Karabakh means mountains (Russian), black (Turkish) and garden (Persian) - which neatly sums up the landscape and historical influences of this patch of land. Sheer-sided valleys, verdant forests and rich pastures make the landscape very beautiful indeed, dotted with fine Armenian monasteries and churches.

Driving south through Ararat province close to the Turkish border, Irina, our guide, told us something of Armenia's recent past. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, everything in Armenia stopped. The nuclear power station closed, so there was no electricity for almost two yeas. Factories closed; bread was rationed; there was a blocade by Azerbaijan and Iran, and then war with Azerbaijan. It was a very difficult time. Irina was very frank about the pros and conc of life for ordinary people in the Soviet Union. Everyone had had a job, even if not much work was done. Now you have to work (too) hard; there is high unemployment and too much reliance on Armenians living abroad. There is also the plight of the old living on pensions: people in the town may dress smartly and frequent the cafes, but they rely for financial support on others and from home crafts sold in the markets. When the power station re-opened, sufficient electricity was generated to sell the surplus to Georgia and Iran. There is now trade with Iran and a gas pipeline is being constructed.

The countryside south of Yerevan is flat and fertile, growing grapes, fruit, tomatoes and aubergines. Distant mountains to the east and Mount Ararat, capped with snow, to the south west are a magnificent scene. We turned off the main road to visit Khor Virap (meaning Deep Well) Monastery. Like a fortress and sitting on a low hill, it looks out over the rich pastures to the border with Turkey. There is a sort of no-man's-land between a fence just beyond the monastery and the border. People live andwork in this space, but any visitors need a permit. The border with Turkey is closed. The monastery is a pilgrimage place and gets its name from the well in which Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned by the pagan King Trdat III for 12 years. The king eventually converted to Christianity; and Saint Gregory, the first leader of the Armenian Church, set about building churches on top of pagan temples and teaching the Christian faith. The well is in a little chapel dedicated to Saint Gregory.

Our drive continued south into Vayotz Dzor - gorge of woes - province and to the Monastery of Noravank - new monastery. On the way we stopped at wayside stalls to buy bread, fruit and wine for lunch. Later we ate in a cave cafe, where we were offered pastries and coffee. Somewhere between Goris and Bendzor, we crossed the border into Nagorno-Karabakh. Raphael, our driver, checked in at the crossing point and we were waved through. As we drove higher into the hills, the mist came down and visibility for a while was poor.

Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh with a population of 40,000, stands above the river Karkar and is surrounded by a typical forest, pasture and fields, backed by craggy mountains. The Hotel Nairi is a converted school, run by an Australian Armenian who spend some months in Australia and some in Karabakh. That explained the Australian touches in the reception area!

Controversy between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan and events in 1920-21 are difficult to unravel in a short space. Nagorno-Karabakh's long Christian tradition is proved by the countless Christian sites, churches, monasteries and khatchkars (pictured, left). Stalin separated Karabakh from Armenia in the 1920s and made it an autonomous region within Azerbaijan; and then Azerbaijan claimed it had always been Azeri. The natural growth of the Azeri population outpaced the Armenian; and Azeri settlers were moved into Armenian villages. By the 1980s the territory's population was down to 75% Armenian.

Demands to reunite with Armenia grew in 1987-88, until the local Assmebly voted for independence from Azerbaijan in December 1989 - and hostilities commenced. From 1989 to 1994 the area was wracked by war, which at first pitted Karabakhtis against overwhelming Azeri and Soviet forces. Stepanakert was shelled from the town of Shushi until 1993; people spent five years living in cellars. Namds of local men with home-made weapons ranged themselves against jets and tanks. After the collapse of the USSR, the war escalated into a heavily armed clash between Armenian troops, and Karabakh commandos, and the Azeri army assisted by Turkish officers. After the Armenian capture of Shushi, the Azeri retreat turned into a rout. Two Azeri governments fell and Karabakh's entire 50,000-strong Muslim Azeri population was forced to flee, joining 150,000 Azeri refugees from Armenia itself. A ceasefire was declared in May 1994 and that is the situation at present. Nagorno-Karabakh wa sleft as a peasant society with some 30,000 dead, massive damage and hundreds of landmines. Its independence is unrecognised by the international community, its status being akin to the Republic of Northern Cyprus. In reality, although it retains the semblance of government and statehood, its defence and economy aare tied to Armenia, from which it receives financial and political support. It has a population of about 150,000, is about 60 miles long and 20 miles wide, has 20 churches and 15 priests.

After the sunny mornings in Yerevan, it was very difficult getting up on our first morning in Stepanakert to a heavy mist. After breakfast and Morning Prayer, we set out to tour the town, which didn't take long. It has a Soviet-era feel to it, despite massive reconstruction since the end of the war. We went to the Central Square and saw government buildings and a new parliament under construction. I go thte impression that a large proportion of the population worked for the government. The Museum of the Karabakh-Azerbaijan War, set up by the mother of one of the local fighters, was the most interesting part of the visit. The walls of the museum were covered with hundreds of photos of the Karabakh youths and men who served in the local fighting units - practically the whole male population. The mother, aided by Irina, gave us a guided tour.

Gandzasar Monastery and Shushi's Cathedral of Our Saviour
Driving north from Stepanakert we headed for Gandzasar (treasure mountain) Monastery, stopping for lunch in the open air in a little village on the way. During lunch, we were entertained by a trio with guitar and canon - an instrument a bit like a zither - to Armenian and Russian folk songs. The meal ended with mulberry vodka, which was welcome, as by now it was turning chilly.

As we drove on to the 13th century monastery, a heavy mist came down and it was raining as we got out of the coach. It was now late afternoon. This meant that we couldn't see the beautiful friezes around the central drum of Saint John the Baptist Church. There has been a monastery here since the 10th century and the church was built between 1261 and 1238 to house the head of Saint John the Baptist, which is buried in front of the altar.

We were greeted by the priest, Father John, who entertained us in the refectory of the future seminary. Father John told us that preparations were being made to receive 20 students for the priesthood in 2007. They will study for six years and after ordination will be expected to serve for five years in Karabakh. Gandsazar Monastery is the centre of the diocese of Artsakh, which covers the whole of Karabakh. Artsakh is the name of an ancient province at the eastern edge of historic Armenia.

On our final morning in Karabakh, we set off from the hotel, the sun shining, for Shushi. We climbed out of Stepanakert, lying on a plain surrounded by mountains and wooded hills (very attractive from a distance!) and headed west to return to Yerevan. Turning off on to a poor rod, we arrived at Shushi, about six miles from Stepanakert. We stopped at the fine Cathedral of Our Savious and were welcomed by the priest. Built in the 19th century, the cathedral suffered considerable damage during the Soviet period and the 1989-94 war. In 1940 it was used as a granary and in the 1950s much of the dressed stone was removed, the dome decapitated, and high apartment blocks erected all round it, concealing it from sight. During the war of liberation, it was used to store thousands of missiles for the bombardment of Stepanakert. Shushi was the last Azeri stronghold to fall - on May 9th 1994, which marked the beginning of the ceasefire. By this time there were no functioning churches in Karabakh. The Cathedral has recently been restored.

Shushi stands on a plateau with high walls and views over a wide swath of central Karabakh. Before the war, the populatoin was about 17,000, with an Azeri majority. After the war, there was an exclusively Armenian population of some 5,500. Now it is about 3,000. The war damage is immediately apparent, with gutted apartment blocks and roofless, ruined houses. We passed two mosques, one being restored, the other, larger, with two minarets. A melancholy place - a twon reduced to a village.

We continued winding up through the mountains and down to the border and Goris. This was a good, new road, paid for with American Armenian money, with hairpin bends, wooded hillsides and little traffic. It is surprising how nimble the cows are in this part of the world, grazing where you would normally expect that only goats could clamber! We drove through a village with lots of bright blue beehives and then saw the caves in the hillsides used, said Irina, by the people of Goris during the war.

Tatev Monastery
Descending through the village of Berdzor with its little church on the outskirts, we had a peaceful view across the hotly disputed tract of land, the hillsides bare, but with lots of ploughed land. A river ran among the trees in the valley below the road, and eagles flew overhead. On the outskirts of Goris we changed to minibuses for the four and a half hour round trip to Tatev Monastery, which is about 10 to 15 miles southof Goris on a very poor road. The views were spectacular, but the ride was rough! We stopped at a small scruffy village to buy food for a picnic, where the children returning from school in their smart clothes gathered round us and were amused to see their faces in the digital camera. Someone bought them sweets and one of the local adults had to call the children to order to prevent a scrum.

Tatev Monastery (right) is built like a fairy-tale natural fortress of rock on the edge of the Vorotan canyon. The views down the gorge reach to the peaks of Karabakh. The main church of the monastery is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul and was built in the 9th century to house important relics. There are two other ancient churches and extensive monastic buildings. Restoration started in 1974, but came to a halt, probably because of the war. A huge crane on rusty rails stands before the church, looking rather lost.

There is a tiny chapel tucked into the south corner of the church - the shrine of Saint Gregory of Tatev (1346-1409). Candles burning here indicated that pilgrims still travel this long, difficult road. In the 13th century some 600 monks, philosophers, musicians, painters and calligraphers lived here. Now it is a rather forlorn place; just the wind and the birds adn the rusty crane.

We were back on the coach late in the afternoon to continue on to Yerevan. We followed the river valley, where it widened into fields and orchards. We passed lots of roadside stalls selling fruit and vegetables - who eats all those watermelons? - and managed to avoid all the hers of cows being driven along the road. Irina told the story of Radio Yerevan during the Soviet period, when it was known fo rits humour, rather in short supply in the USSR. Turkey asked Armenia, "Why is Mount Ararat our national emblem, when it is in Turkey? Do you claim it?" Armenia retorted, "Why is the moon on the Turkish flag? Do you claim it?"

We got back to the Hotel Regineh late in the evening, went straight in to dinner, sang Compline and went to bed.

Holy Etchmiadzin
The clergy are in their cassocks this morning, as we are off to Etchmiadzin, a 30-minute drive, to attend the Liturgy for the feast of the Holy Cross in the Cathedral and to meet the Catholicos, Karekin II.

Holy Etchmiadzin has a population of some 50,000 and is the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the place where Saint Gregory the Illuminator saw a beam of light fall to earth in a divine vision and where he built the first Mayr Tachar - Mother Church - of Armenia. For Armenian Christians Etchmiadzin, which means 'descent of the only-begotten Son fo God' - has unparalleled importance. The Cathedral (pictured, left) was practically rebuilt in 1441 and is set in spacious grounds with the seminary, the palace of the Catholicos and other buildings around it.

We were shown to our places in the Cathedral by an Armenian priest known to Bishop Geoffrey. The choir, the ladies in long emerald greed dresses and white veils, were in the south transept to out left. Also to our left were a number of bishops from around the world, here for the Synod. There is no space here to describe the Divine Liturgy. Needless to say it was very splendid, with the fine choir and organ, the bells and the presence of both the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, Karekin II, and the Caatholicos of Cilicia, Aram I.

After venerating the Gospel Book at the end of the two-hour Liturgy, we had a brief meetin gwith Catholicos Karekin. Brief, because he was entertaining the bishops! We were taken to the Treasury, where we were then shown a magnificent gold-jewelled cross and the Armenian alphabet in gold, decorated with jewels. I can't remember the story behind these treasuresm but it is something to do with preventing the Soviets from getting their hands on the jewels and the gold!

Haghartsin Monastery and Lake Sevan Seminary
Monday saw us heading north after breakfast and Morning Prayer, on a good, tree-lined dual carriageway, through fields and barren hills. Driving through a one and a half mile tunnel, the landscape changed dramatically. The rugged hills were now thickly forested and the hairpin bends took us through very pretty countryside. We were heading for Haghartsin Monastery; and as we descended into the town of Dilijan, Irina told us that it was famous in Soviet times as a retreat for writers. composers and artists, and stil has a local active arts scene. The poverty is apparent once you get into the town, with derelict and half-built houses, some looking very precarious on the hillsides. We wound our way up out of hte town and, about 12 miles further on, left the coach and walked the last one and a half miles or so along a tree-lined lane, the warm sun shining through the branches, to the monastery.

The monastery is situated in a beautiful forest valley, hidden by massive nut trees and, looking down on it at the top of the lane, I realised I had left my camera in the hotel. Hahartsin means 'dance of the eagles' and the monastery was built by two brothers in the 12th century. There are three churches, Saint Gregory the Illuminator (12th century), Saint Mary (13th century) and Saint Stephen (13th century). St Mary's is in use.

In his welcome, Father Sassoon, the priest, told the history of the monastety and how a Muslim prince from the Emirates had visited and offered to pay for the renovations. It is hoped that monastic life will then be restored. Monastic life came to an end there at the end of the 20th century. Bishop Geoffrey celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Mary's Church and then we bought delicious warm bread from the monastery bakery, which was much appreciated by a friendly puppy and cat! As we walked back down the lane, I thought that this was the most beautiful spot that we had visited so far.

We returned to Dilijan and then south to Lake Sevan for a fish lunch looking out over the lake - rather a lot of bones! Lake Sevan is 1,900 metres above sea level and is roughly 75 miles long and 25 miles wide. Its colours and shades change with the weather, by its own mysterious process, from a dazzling azure to dark blue and a thousand shades between. The freshwater lake supports a healthy fish population. In the 1950s the feed river Hradzan was tapped for hydro-electric plants and irrigation. The level of the lake fell by about 20 metres. Sevan island and its two churches became a peninsula. The lake is very busy in the summer, with people escaping the heat of Yerevan.

After lunch we visited the new seminary beside the lake and were welcomed bythe 84 students. After being shown round and entertained to two songs - one about Our Lord and the disciples preaching; and the other an Armenian national song - we followed th estudents, two by two, up the 200-odd steps to Saint Mary's Church for Vespers. The other church of the Apostles is being restored. Some of us had an opportunity to talk with two of the students, Armin from Iraq and George from Georgia, but as is always the case we didn't have much time, as we had to be on our way.

Mount Aragat and Ashtarak
Next day we headed to Mount Aragat and the fortress of Amberd. Mount Aragat is just over 4,000 metres high, the highest peak in the Armenian mountains; Amberd is on the southern slopes. The narrow road wound up through barren hills and fortunately hardely any traffic came the other way. The fortress was rebuilt many times; most of it dates from the 11th century. The high stone walls and round towers are a rough, but effective, defence. It is easy to see why the site was chosen. At 2,3000 metres above sea level, it commands a strong position above the farms and trade routes of the Ararat plain. According to local tradition, the wall wers never breached.

After visiting the 11th century church downhill, we made our way to th etown of Ashtarak, with a population of 27,000, the capital of the province of Aragatsotn. The land around the town, which has lots of 19th century buildings and four churches, is very fertile. Orchards and vines and stacks of hay cover the land; and there were little stalls along the road selling grapes. ONce again there were cows, sheep and goats all over the road. We drove through Ashtarak to visit the church of Saint Mary of Oshakan. This ia 19th century church built over the tomb of Saint Mesrop Mashtots, which dates from the 5th century. Unusual among the churches that we vistied, this one is rectangular in plan, had no dome and no gavit (a kind of outer nave or narthex). Irina told us that when children go to shool the first thing that they learn is the alphabet. When they have mastered it, they are brought here to Saint Mesrop who, you will recall, was the genius who created the Armenian alphabet. Whether she meant all Armenian children, or just the local ones, I can't remember. Before returnign to Ashtarak we had lunch at a restaurant in a very pleasant setting in a wooded gorge, with a river running thorugh it. Unfortunately, there were some caged bears and a monkey in the grounds, which upset a few people. In Ashtarak again, we visited the tiny 7th century church of Saint Mary with, unusually, a red-toled roof and dome, locally known as the red church.

To Etchmiadzin again
On the last morning of our pilgrimage, we returned to Etchmiadzin to visit the museum. the Cathedral and the church of Saint Hripsime. This church, which is about one and a half miles from Etchmiadzin, was our first stop. It was originally built in 618, replacing an earlier chapel on the site where Hripsime is said to have been killed, after she refused to marry King Trdat III. Hripsime fled Diocletian's Roman Empire after the Emperor had chosen her from the portraits of the most beautiful women of his dominions. She and a group of Christian maidens came to Armenia, where King Trdat took a fancy to her! She and her companions were stoned to deaath outside the king's palace. The church was comprehensively reconstructed in 1653. A priest and two assistants, possibly seminarians, were singing the Morning Office as we entered the church, but we were unable to go down into the crypt under the sanctuary to visit Hripsime's tomb.

We then went on to the Cathedral, where Irina guided us round. The Cathedral stands in a quadrangle of hedges and lawns, surrounded by 19th century buildings, among them the palace of the Catholicos and the seminary. By the main entrance is the large monument to commemorate the visti of Pope John Paul II in 2001. The seminary was closed un 1921, when Etchmiadzin was swamped by refuees from the genocide, and was not allowed to open again by the Soviet regime. The Cathedral is modest in size and has a ceiling gleaming with frescoes painted in the early 18th century. Swirls of red, greem and gold evoke an oriental garden of roses, cypress tree and winged cherubs. At the centre is an alatar at the place where St Gregory saw the divine light strike the ground. During our visit, we briefly met Bishop Nathan Hovhanissian, the Armenian bishop in London (pictured with Bishop Geoffrey Rowell).

Yerevan's New Cathedral
Back in the city, we visited the Cathedral of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (right), built in 2001 to commemorate the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity. This, Yerevan's first real Cathedral, is a bit brutalist in execution and had, I thought, no atmosphere. The sanctuary curtain was closed; so, with rows of seats and the sanctuary stage, the interior looked a bit like a theatre. Yerevan was few churches; most of the old ones were demolished by the Soviets, who refused permission to build new ones.

After lunch, we walked down to the Opera House and then turned along Sayat-Nova Avenue to find the tiny Katoghike Church (left). Dedicated to Saint Mary, we found it tucked away in a little square behind tall buildings. I think this was the site of a larger church destroyed by the Soviets. Saint Mary's is a 13th century rebuilding of an eralier church and could hold about a dozen people. From here we took a taxi to the address given us for the Armenian Catholic Church. The driver seemed confident as we drove north into th esuburbs for what seemed ages. Eventually we pulled up outside a church, but immediately I knew it was wrong - the style of the building and the crosses were Russian. We thanked the driver and asked him to wait and went into the church where Vespers was being sung (it was the eve of the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God). We didn't stay long before asking th edriver ro rake us back to the hotel - it was too much hassle to explain to him that we were at the wrong church. We found the Russian Orthodox Church, but still had no idea as to the whereabouts of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In the evening we went down the road to the Hotel Arma, where we say on th eterrace looking out over Yerevan for our last meal. The day we flew home was Independence Day (1991).

Tuesday 5 June 2007

The Reunion of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Fr John Salter writes:

On Ascension Day 2007 the two portions of the Russian Orthodox Church signed a document of reunion, bringing together the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (The Zarubeshniki) and the Moscow Patriarchate. This solemn event took place in the recently rebuilt church of the Holy Saviour in Moscow. The main signatories to the Act of Canonical Communion were His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All The Russias and the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, with its headquarters based in New York, His Eminence Metropolitan Lavr. But how were these two sections of the Russian Church divided in the first place, because despite their division they held the same Orthodox Faith in its entirety?

Following the turmoil of the Revolution the Sacred Church Council and Higher Church Administration was formed on 18/24 May 1919. Eighteen months later the White Army was evacuated from the Crimea in November 1920 and in the same month the first session of the Higher Church Administration Outside Russia was convened and on the 20 November (Old Style) a directive was issued , Number 362, and accepted by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon (pictured above)and the Holy Synod, ratifying the independent governing of dioceses, which found themselves out of contact with the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, and on this basis can be regarded as the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, formerly known as The Russian Church-in-Exile.

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)

Exiled Bishops, Clergy and Laity at first based themselves in the once Christian city of Constantinople, but it was unsatisfactory for two reasons: it was the See City of the Ecumenical Patriarch and it was governed by Muslims. However, Metopolitan Dorotheos, acting Locum Tenens for the Eceumenical Patriarchate, gave his blessing for the Higher Church Council to continue its work under the leadership of Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky. A year later at the invitation of the Patriarch of Serbia, Varnava, the exiles moved to what had been the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate before it moved to Belgrade, the town of Sremsky-Karlovsky; and it was here on 26 July 1921 that the first session of the Higher Church Authority was held in exile. At this time, too, Patriarch Tikhon refused to grant autocephaly to the Polish Orthodox Church, although this Church later was to go under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Throne. Again, in the same year, on 26 November (Old Style) the General Church Council approved the Canonical Documents:” The Statutes Regulating the Government of the Russian Church Abroad”.

Established now in their new home at Sremsky-Karlovsky, the hierarchs issued the following documents : ”An Epistle of the General Council of the Church Abroad to the Peace Conference at Genoa”, with the request to help free Russia from the Bolsheviks; “An Epistle to All the Rulers and Peoples of the World who Believe in God”, with the request to aid the starving peoples of Russia.

Seeing the direction in which the Mother Church of Russia was heading, the Finnish Orthodox Church sought to go under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, and has remained under His All Holiness’s jurisdiction ever since, which has caused considerable ill-feeling between Moscow and the Phanar.

In 1922 Patriarch Tikhon thanked the Patriarch of Serbia for granting asylum to his exiled hierarchs, demonstrating that he recognized their right to exist as a Church in exile. In Harbin, Manchuria, away from the Bolsheviks tyranny, Metropolitan Methodius established a new Diocesan Cathedral for other exiled Russians and native Orthodox Manchurians. A blow to the exiled hierarchy was to fall on 5 May 1922 when Patriarch Tikhon was forced by the Soviet Government to issue a further Directive (Number 348) ordering the disbanding the Higher Church Administration in Exile, and thus rescinding Directive 362 issued merely less than two years earlier. Patriarch Tikhon’s action did not save him from the Bolsheviks as he was arrested in Moscow just over a month after his Directive had been published, and the exiled administration issued an urgent appeal to the Heads of all non-Orthodox Churches and World rulers to come to the defence of Patriarch Tikhon.

Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky)

During the early 1920s The Higher Church Administration recognized Metropolitan Agathangel as Locum Tenens of Patriarch Tikhon, and following Tikhon’s directive 348 abolished the Higher Church Administration and created the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad. This gave rise to their Church being referred to as “The Synodalists”. In the United States a further rupture was to occur in the Russian diaspora when the Russian North American Diocese declared itself autocephalous under the Metropolitan Platon.

In 1923 a commission of the Synod of Bishops in Exile looked into the question of union with the Anglican Church. Nothing came of it, but the Anglican & Eastern Churches1 Association did provide a printing press for the headquarters in Sremsky-Karlovsky, due to the initiative of Father Fynes-Clinton. In 1925 the recognized Locum Tenens of the Moscow Patriarchate was Metropolitan Peter of Krutitza, who replaced Agathangel, as far as the exiles were concerned, but two months later on 16 January 1926 Metropolitan Peter was also arrested. Then in the summer of that year the Russian community in Paris headed by Metropolitan Evlogy followed the example of Metropolitan Platon and left the Russian Church in Exile and placed himself under the Ecumenical Throne, where that jurisdiction remains to this day. But the numbers of Russian monks in Sremsky-Karlovsky was swelled when thirty Finnish monks left Valaamo monastery due to the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar (The Russians in Exile stuck firmly to the Julian Calendar).In Serbia a monastery was established for the exiles at Milkovo under the Abbot Schema-Archimandrite Ambrose (Kurganov).

Back in Moscow on 29 July 1926 Metropolitan Sergius, Locum Tenens as far as the Soviet Government was concerned, of the Patriarchate, issued a Declaration demanding loyalty to the Soviet Government not only from the bishops resident in the Soviet Union, but also those in exile abroad. This resulted in what the Exiled Church referred to as “Sergianism”. But Sergius was in an impossible position, and there was no way that Russians living abroad would promise loyalty to a government under whose rule they were not living, for their loyalty lay with the countries which had granted them asylum. The Ecumenical Patriarch, resident in Turkey, does not demand from the Greeks outside Turkey loyalty to the Turkish government, nor does the Patriarch of Antioch based in Damascus expect his flock in the United States to swear allegiance to the Syrian regime, nor the Patriarch of Jerusalem expect loyalty from the Arab diaspora to the Israeli Knesset. The matter was aggravated, however, by the Exiled hierarchy continuing to recognize the imprisoned Metropolitan Peter rather than Sergius. Metropolitan Sergius retaliated by abolishing the Council of Bishops and the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad.

From Serbia the Synod suspended Metropolitan Platon and blamed him and his followers for causing a schism in the diaspora in the United States, but at the same time the Hieromonk Panteleimon bought a piece of land in Jordanville, USA, on which was established the Monastery of The Holy Trinity with the blessing of Archbishop Apollinary in 1930; so there was gradual expansion despite the defections. By 1934 a Diocese of Brazil had been established under Bishop Theodosius, Protopresbyter Constantine Irastov having built the first church there. But in that same year Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Moscow suspended the clergy of the Russian Church Abroad from serving the liturgy and all liturgical services, nevertheless the Exiled Church expanded in China where a Chinese Christian Brotherhood was established in Shanghai on October 28 1935.

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)

In 1935 on l5 November back in Sremsky-Karlovsky under the Chairmanship of Patriarch Varnava of Serbia a council was held at which Metropolitan Anastasy, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and the former “schismatics” Metropolitans Evlogy of Paris and Platon of the USA had returned to communion with the exiled hierarchy, and joined in signing the “Temporary Regulations of The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad”. At this session the teachings of the Russian Theologian Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov of the Russian seminary of St. Serge in the Rue de Crimee in Paris, were condemned as heretical on the Wisdom of God, Sophia. Whether because of this condemnation Metropolitan Evlogy once again broke with the Sremsky-Karlovsky Synod, and this time it was permanent. In February 1936 a new Russian church was built in Brussels and dedicated to the Tzar Martyr Nicholas II Romanov; five months later Blessed Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) died and was succeeded by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky).

In 1942 the Convent of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God which had been founded in the Ural Mountains of Russia and then re-located in China was established in San Francisco, thanks in no small part to the tireless work of Abbess Rufina and the Anglican Mother Superior Cicelyof the St Saviour’s Anglican Priory in Haggerston, who had rallied the Anglican religious communities between the wars to raise money to rescue the Russian nuns and their Chinese orphans and bring them to the United States.

At the height of World War II on October 16 1943, the Council of Bishops in Exile stated that they did not recognize Patriarch Sergius, as he had become. In 1946 Sergius’s successor, Patriarch Alexis I, issued an appeal from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Clergy and Laity of the Karlovsky Orientation to return to communion, but without effect and the Metropolia jurisdiction of Metropolitan Platon again broke off communion with the exiled Church.

At the end of World War II in 1946 a Diocese of Australia was established and the Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville was increased in number by the arrival of fourteen monks from the St Job of Pochaev, Vienna, the brotherhood from Ladomirovo. A further influx to swell the ranks of the Church came from the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Churches.

The political situation in Yugoslavia had deteriorated to the detriment of the Synodalists based at Sremsky-Karlovsky. The Serbian Orthodox monarchy had collapsed and Tito was to seize power. The Synod moved to Vienna, then to Munich and shortly afterwards to Geneva, then led by Metroplitan Anastassy re-located itself in New York in 1950, in which year the Lesna Convent moved from Serbia to France. This convent had been established by the Tzar Nicholas II’s chaplain St John of Krondstadt and had moved from Russia to Serbia, but were again overtaken by Communist hostility. The Church in Exile continued its ministry and continued to steadily grow, and work had to be done to help the immigrants arriving from China and settling in San Francisco. One of the rallying points for the exiled Russians was the beautiful miraculous icon of Our Lady of Kursk, which had been rescued from Russia and protected by Her Imperial Majesty the Dowager Tzarina Maria Feodrovna in Denmark and eventually housed in the United States in 1951.

In 1958 the needs of exiles in Peru was met to some extent by the opening of a church which was consecrated by Archbishop Leonty at Lima, the capital. A year later and shortly after Khruschev’s visit to the USA the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign was opened in New York. Five years later in 1964 Bishop Philaret was chosen as Chief Metropolitan. Meanwhile Archbishop (now a Saint since 2 July 1994) John (Maximovitch) formerly of Shanghai inaugurated the construction in San Francisco of the Cathedral of Our Lady Joy of Those Who Sorrow. 1964 saw the publication of an Encyclical drawing the attention of the Free World to the continued persecution of the Faithful in Russia, intensified during the Khruschev years, but it also witnessed the glorification of canonization of St John of Krondstadt and six years later in 1970 the glorification of St. Herman of Alaska, who had come to North America from Valaamo monastery. 1970 saw the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Russian Church Abroad and this was greeted with celebrations throughout the diaspora, but Metropolitan Anastassy did not live to see it as he died on 22 May 1965.

Still there was no let-up in the exiles’ rejection of the official line of the Moscow Patriarchate and attention was drawn by various publications to the "Catacomb Church" in Russia itself and a group of Catacomb clergy were placed under the omophorion of Metropolitan Philaret, whilst remaining in Russia itself.

In 1974 the Third General Council of the Russian Church Abroad was held in Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, and the anathema against the Old Believers was lifted and the “Old Rite” permitted, and some of that Church were admitted to full communion with the exiled Church while keeping the old rites. There were further canonizations including that of Blessed Xenia and on Mount Athos the glorification of St Paisius Velichkovsky at the skete of the Prophet Elias on 2 August 1982. The huge skete was closed in 1992 and the Russian and American monks evicted by order of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, for their refusal to commemorate his All Holiness as a New Calendar Patriarch in the diptyches On September 20 1982 the New Martyrs of Russia and the Imperial Russian Martyrs were canonized; whilst in the same year a secret consecration took place in Russia of Bishop Lazarus, who would take care of the Catacomb Church where its members could be found. In 1990 the Council of Bishops Abroad ratified the “Statutes for the Parishes of the Free Russian Orthodox Church” located in Russia, and the Bishops confirmed the Hierarchy in Russia.

On November 21 1985 Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) died and Archbishop Vitaly of Canada succeeded him as Chief Hierarch. Vitaly had worked in London when the two jurisdictions used the former Anglican church of St. Philip, Buckingham Palace Road, (demolished in 1958 to make way for Victoria Coach Station’s extension and a new police station) which had been secured for the Russians by the patron of the living, the Duke of Newcastle and his cousin Father Fynes-Clinton, the then General Secretary of the Anglican and Eastern Churches’ Association. Archbishop Nikodem of Richmond headed the exile congregations in the United Kingdom and his opposite number was Metropolitan Antony Bloom. A unique figure was Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes, former English tutor to the Imperial Grand Princesses and their brother the Tzarevitch Alexis Nicolaevitch, who moved between his chapel in Marston Street, Oxford, where several Imperial relics were housed, and his farm in Kent and his London house in Robert Street, Camden Town. He had left the jurisdiction of the Russian Church Abroad and placed himself under the Moscow Patriarchate. This did not seem, however, to prevent his being received by all members of the Russian community in England irrespective of jurisdiction. The Princely family of Galitzine mostly supported the Russian Church in Exile and Princess Nicholas Galitzine, who had endured with her family the Stalinist terror in internal exile in Perm was a devout member of the Russian Church in Emperor’s Gate, South Kensington, the main base in London of the exiles’ jurisdiction. She had had as her parish priest in Perm, Father Leonid, who had resisted the Bolsheviks and had spent several periods in gaol for his conscience. Her brother-in-law, Prince Vladimir Galitzine worshipped in both jurisdictions, and a cousin Prince George Galitzine was buried from the Russian Patriarchal Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge, London, by Metropolitan Antony Bloom of Sourozh.

Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov)

While not recognizing the election of Patriarchs Alexis I or Alexis II of Moscow the Bishops Abroad entered into communion with the Old Calendarists of Romania in 1992 and with the Old Calendarists of Bulgaria under Metropolitan Cyprian’s Synod in 1994. The missionary activity of the Russian Church Abroad was not curtailed and in 1994 a mission was established in South Korea , but also in Russia itself, where it ministered to the Catacomb Orthodox. At one stage the Convent of SS.Martha and Mary established before the Revolution by the Grand Princess Serge (St Elizabeth of the New Martyrs of Russia) the sister of the Tzarina Alexandra Feodrovna, was in the hands of both the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union a hundred centres of worship were established by the Russian Church Abroad in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Four Bishops had pastoral responsibility for these parishes, but two of them broke off communion with the then Chief Hierarch in New York, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) in 1994 and founded their own Church authority “The Free Orthodox Church of Russia” and consecrated three bishops. Seemingly they were reconciled with New York headquarters in 1994 and the three bishops’ consecrations were declared null.

Metropolitan Laurus & Archbishop Mark of Berlin & Western Europe

In 2001 Metropolitan Laurus was elected Chief Hierarch and negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate became more serious. So much so that Metropolitan Laurus travelled to Moscow in May 2004 and met Patriarch Alexis II. The outcome of this meeting was to be the establishment of a joint committee to try to overcome the schism between these two sections of the Russian Church. Things ran fairly smoothly, but ecumenism in which the Patriarchate of Moscow was involved was a bone of contention for the Russian Church Abroad. Property ownership, particularly in the Holy Land, needed to be addressed. Just as with the formation of the Church of South India in the 1950s united some of the Churches of the Indian sub-continent, but left “Continuing Anglicans” outside the union, so the coming together in full communion of the Russian Churches caused some to be quite unable to accept the terms of intercommunion. Metropolitan Laurus’s predecessor, Metropolitan Vitaly was unable to accept the conditions of union and he and his supporters established a break-away group now known as the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile (a return to its old title). It is thought the San Francisco based Convent of Our Lady of Vladimir has followed Vitaly’s lead.

In the United Kingdom the monastery of St Edward the Martyr at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, Surrey, has placed itself under one of the Greek Old Calendarist jurisdictions, as has the Convent of the Annunciation in Brondesbury Park, London, and another English parish. In Normandy the Lesna Convent has also left the Russian Church. Who owns which property is a problem which faces not only the reunited sections of the Church, but for those who have disassociated themselves from the mainstream of Russian Orthodoxy. On Mount Athos it could bode well for the possible restoration of the large Russian skete of the Prophet Elias, from which the monks were expelled by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Reema Samaha

Fr John Salter writes:

News has reached us via the Right Reverend Joseph Francavilla of the Melkite Greek Catholic community in the United States that Reema Damaha of the Melkite church of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord, Virginia, was one of the thirty-two students gunned down and killed in the massacre at Virginia Tech in April.

Her father is a Deacon in the Church. Our prayers are asked for the repose of her soul and for her parents and family in their sad loss.

O Christ our True God, grant rest with Thy Saints to the soul of Thine Handmaid Reema, in that place where there is neither pain, nor grief, nor sighing, but Life everlasting. Amen.

The Repose in The Lord of Sister Catherine Lucienne van den Plas

Fr John Salter writes:

Visitors to the Melkite Patriarchate at Raboueh, Lebanon, will have received a warm welcome from Sister van den Plas (pictured, left, with Patriarch Maximos V and a colleague). It was she, too, who produced the Patriarchal revue “Le Lien” and worked so hard for the Melkite community.

Lucienne was born in Belgium in 1922 and was fluent in French and Flemish. She received a classical education, and for her Greek and Latin were a joy. She received her licences des Lettres et en Langues and then enrolled in the Societe des Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat, and in Lourdes at La Maison de Formation de la Societe, she passed two years in the novitiate and began her pastoral work between 1948 and 1949. During these years Monsignor Georges Hakim (then Archbishop of Galilee and the future Melkite Patriarch Maximos V) knew this association and appreciated greatly its spirituality and he consulted with Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh, who invited the Association Apostolique to work in the Patriarchate of the Melkite Greek Catholics.

So it was that Lucienne arrived in the Lebanon on 5 January 1950, having visited Rome during that Holy Year and gained a plenary indulgence having visited the Four Major Basilicas. In the first week in Lebanon Lucienne soon became familiar with the Byzantine Liturgy and the traditions and customs of the Lebanese. Her first field of action assigned by the Patriarch was to the College of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, where she directed French studies and the spiritual life of the students. In 1967 during the Patriarchate of Maximos V until 1980 (the time of the erection of Raboueh as the grand seminary and residence of the Patriarch), Lucienne served the college and the Patriarchate, and the Patriarch assigned to her the direction of “Le Lien”, With courage, strength and faithfulness Lucienne took on all that the Patriarchate assigned to her and she served faithfully and untiringly the Holy Synods, the Bishops, Priests, Seminarians and the personnel attached to the Patriarchate.

May the Lord God remember in His Kingdom his handmaid Catherine Lucienne, and may her memory be eternal!