Window View of the Armenian Church vol. 1 no. 1 January 1990

View the PDF version of this issue: Window_Vol1_No1_Premier_ Issue

WINDOW_1.1
view of the Armenian Church

January 1990         Volume I, Number 1

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©1990 The Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group
(The Group)

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WINDOW is published by The Armenian Church Research and Analysis
Group (The Group).  Use of original articles, art work or
photographs is prohibited without permission of the publisher.
The views expressed within are solely those of the individual
authors.
Publisher    The Group
Editors        Fr Vazken Movsesian
Dn Hratch Tchilingirian
Art director    Yn Susan Movsesian
Circulation    Alice Atamian
Distributions    Brian Krikorian, Esq.
Layout & Printing    SRP
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Editorial
———

Greater Love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life
down for his friends
(St. John 15:13)

Looking through the WINDOW of Love

Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian

During the first half of this century the question for the
Armenian Church in America may have been how are we to keep the
doors open?  Today, with the doors open, the central question is,
how do we bring people through those doors? This is a
question which has haunted and frustrated many a worker of the
Church.  It is a question that is not reserved for the discussion
of a few.  As concerned laborers in the field, GodUs harvest is
our intention.  Our Lord teaches us, “_the laborer
deserves his wages.”  The wages for the laborer in the Church is
not material wealth, rather an inner satisfaction that the labor
has not been in vain.
To serve the Church is an act of love.  Because God loved us, we
have a capacity to love.  We translate that love from the
emotional realm to that of activism — we serve.
The Church that Jesus Christ established, with Her unique message
of love, hope, and life, entwined in mysticism continues to
attract and captivate many.  Those drawn to the Church,
particularly here in America, wake up in the face of harsh
reality.  Those alluring ideals are in need of real funding.  And
so, with love and devotion to the Church we work to fund and to
move the Church in Her mission.  The post-massacre Armenian Church
in America has only recently been adjusting to
financial stability.  Nevertheless pressures from growing
parishes, special needs of the fold, demands of a complex society
require more and more of the Church.  The greater the projects,
the greater is the need for money.  Thus a never ending cycle
of projects and fund raisers becomes the fate of so many clergy,
volunteers and workers of the Church.
The Holy Apostle tells us “love conquers all,” and so we believe
of difficulties in the Church.  Thousands of ordained servants and
volunteers, out of love for the Church deal with banquets,
raffles, picnics, bingo,  and sales to continue Her
mission.  With an “end justifying the means” logic we rationalize
all types of activity so long as revenue for Christ’s work is
provided.  All too often though, the line between the means and
the end vanishes before our sight.  We begin to believe
Church projects as being God-ordained or God-validated.  With a
loss of a defined purpose, the degree of love for our Church
begins to diminish rather than be heightened.
At some point we have to say “enough.”  We are part of the Church
for a purpose.  Granted, her physical needs are essential but
without some fresh air we are all susceptible to suffocation.  At
some point we have to open a new window, to remind, to
refresh and to invigorate us.
Our object in beginning this publication is to deal with the end
of our efforts.  WINDOW is aimed at the  dedicated Armenian Church
worker, ordained or not, to give a proportioned perception of the
majestic Armenian Church.  We publish Window in a
spirit of love.  Because of our love for the Church we are
compelled to open this new window.   With articles focused on
current issues, we hope to point to the relevancy of an ancient
Church in today’s modern society.
The issues that challenge us today, we find, are issues that the
Church has addressed throughout the centuries. Ecumenism, cults,
abortion, sexuality, poverty, environment, communism, capitalism
(even if not expressed in these terms) have demanded
answers from the Church since early centuries.
The man of the 1990’s is only slightly different from his
predecessors.  He looks for answers in his faith but now he is
offered a broad range of alternatives.  Consider the three major
Judaic traditions–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–and the
handful of Eastern traditions — Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.  Each of
these religions/philosophies has it’s own set of values, laws and
it’s own god (deified or not).  Each has attractions and of course
shortcomings.  In a free society, man is at
liberty to examine, explore and come to terms with his
conscientiousness and his god without consequence.  Yet
evangelism, cult movements, neo/quasi-religion such as the new age
movement, coupled with man’s desire to spiritually “find himself,”
all
contribute heavily in the decision process. The Armenian Church in
America has become a Church of choice.   No longer does ethnicity
determine religious affiliation.
The poet Vahan Tekeyan writes, “The Armenian Church is the
birthplace of my soul_the mighty fortress of my forefathers’
faith_”  These words described the feelings of a generation forced
out of their homeland, whose only sense of stability was
the Church.  Without lessening the poetic beauty of Tekeyan’s
words, we venture to say that the Armenian today finds no
inconsistency in confessing the Church as a historic institution
and another faith as the guardian and protector of his/her soul.
Church leadership faces a new dilemma in addressing a generation
which does not describe belonging to the Armenian Church as an
accident of birth, rather as a matter conscience choice, whatever
the reasons for choice may be.
In turbulent waters, the Armenian Church in America struggles to
beam Her light across foggy seas of religion. Her destiny in
America largely relies on Her ability to be a viable option to
ships adrift.  Here She can be a lifesaver or sink like a
weighted barge.
We offer a Window — to open, view and evaluate our efforts of
love.  Everyone who loves the Church, sacrifices
for that Church and is surely concerned with Her destiny. Without
opening a window, our concerns remain within.  We offer Window: a
view of the Armenian Church; a window made of glass, we may look
through and be looked at.  In subsequent issues we
will be addressing specific concerns of the Armenian Church in
America.  We invite you to participate with your comments and
insights.  Most of all, we invite you to view with us the Armenian
Church through this window.

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50 Years Ago
————

Patriarch Torkom Koushagian’s Viewpoint

This is the condensed Introduction of Patriarch Torkom Kushagian
in  The Improvement of the Armenian Church, published in Jerusalem
(1940).  The book is a postmortem compilation of his editorials in
Sion, the official organ of  the Jerusalem
Patriarchate.   This particular editorial was published in the
September 1937 issue of   Sion. Archbishop Kushagian was patriarch
of Jerusalem from 1932-1939.  He is one of the most eminent and
prolific church leaders of our times.  D.H.T.

The problem of Improvement which literally means good order is
not only a contemporary problem, but it is a continuous one, and
let it not sound too grandiose if we say, it is an eternal
problem for u
s.  It has existed always and it will not cease from existing.  It
is a natural desire for a people who has its Church as its
conscious, to see that its spiritual and moral needs are in
harmony and in accordance with its longings.  And if it has not
been possible to fulfill this, as it is thought to be, the reason
is the life of the Nation throughout the centuries, faced with
political and social turmoils and continuous dispersions.

But before we reach that point, that is before saying whether
indeed there is a dire need for Improvement in our church, we
would like to emphasize the difference between two differentiated
terms: Renewal and Improvement.  The first is the Armenian
form of the French word r#forme, which sometimes, perhaps more
correctly so, is translated into Reconstruction. This European
word has been used amongst us to connote “protestantism,” in view
of the fact, that its founders, having been dissatisfied
with [Roman] Catholic Christianity, and its centuries-old
doctrinal and liturgical renovations, had supposedly wanted a
return to the primitive Church faith and to the simplicity of its
worship.  As for the word baregarkootune, it is an authentic
Armenian word, which means “the well preservation of the existing
order” ; almost a synonym for the word discipline . . . . . .

All that we had and still have, as a discipline or order of
religious and ecclesial life: worship, liturgy, custom, tradition,
hymn, ceremony, rites, rules, etc, are dispensed, so reasonably,
from the wisdom of our forefathers.  In fact, they are
good  orders in their totality.  The more we know them in their
inner connection with each other, the more we will be fascinated
on their spirit that gave them birth and preserved them.  That
spirit, in its depth, is a Christian and National spirit
at the same time; a spirit that has consecrated our religious
literature  and the prayers and worship of our Church; a spirit
that as the renowned armenologist Pollantian affirms . . . is the
most capturing and treasured one among the small Eastern
Churches. Furthermore, that spirit has so shaped our worship,
liturgy and art, has so harmoniously molded and cemented mystical
religious experience  and the serious understanding of life . . .
that those who visit us cannot resist expressing their
admiration and impressions.  This is the same spirit that has
inspired our church canons and national laws, through which our
people has been able to preserve its hierarchical system and the
morality of its religious-national life, despite the
unending problems caused by political turmoil.

Whatever our forefathers have given us, as a system, as a form
and as a life, with so much love and wisdom, have only been good,
beneficial and beautiful.  And now whatever we have from them, it
is possible to say, that it is all the same, except
those things that have been added incidentally and things that
have been dropped accidentally; nevertheless, without corrupting
their whole character.

It is our deepest conviction, that for us, Improvement should
mean our diligence to  preserve what we have in their good
condition: the part of the whole in itself, and the whole in its
unity; preserving them pure and strong, so that it is possible
to realize, through them, their intended goal, which is the
improvement of the Nation’s spiritual life.

There are two things which are essential for this: to have clergy
who are conscience of their calling and are prepared for their
careers, and then, to have a people who are receptive to a
spiritual culture.  Without the fulfillment of these two, it
is impossible to have Improvement . This is why, together with
others, we think that the most important elements of Improvement
are the clergy and the people.  And the means to preserve the
dignity of their responsibility is the education of the clergy and
the religious discipline of the people.  .

We need  to be healed, through nourishment and vigor, and that is
Improvement the way we understand it; and not reform, which would
be like having a surgery.  If there is swelling caused by the
weakness of the body, it is wiser to run to
nourishment than the knife. And the best condition for nourishment
is the education of the clergy and the religious discipline of the
people.

Translated by Deacon Hratch Tchilingirian

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A  Pious  Minimalism

Deacon Hratch Tchilingirian

In trying to formulate the scope of the Window, we observed that
it is not  possible to have an Armenian publication which will
deal with contemporary issues of the Church.  It is not possible
in view of the caliber of the  innumerable publications
of magazines and periodicals of other churches, namely, the Roman
Catholic Church and main line Protestant churches.   The list of
such professional  publications by other churches is very long and
impressive.  Publications that deal with moral,
social, theological, political, economic, spiritual and any
perceivable issue in modern life.  It is not possible for us, the
Armenian Church, to have such publications for many reasons.
Namely, lack of resources, logistics, and most important,
absence of necessary determinants of such an endeavor.  It seems
that presently, the functional parameters of the Church’s mission
is the status quo  and to a certain degree its conventional
paternalism.

From a broader perspective, the basic problem is a perceptual
problem with two overlapping dimensions: collective and
individual.  Collectively Armenians perceive the Church to be the
same as the Armenian Nation.  The general trend in the Armenian
Church in contemporary times has been the survival of Armenians as
an ethnic entity. This trend evolved during the post-genocide
formation of the Armenian Diaspora.  One of the reasons that the
Armenian Church plays a major role in the Diaspora
community is that it serves as a means of acceptable societal
identification and simultaneously as a means of maintaining ethnic
self-identity.  Even though the intra-ethnic differences are many,
one institution where common ground may be found is
Armenian religion, vis a vis  the church.   Also  Armenians
“employ”  the  church as a strategy for reinforcing their existing
ethnic-identity.  The Armenian Church as a vital
identity institution is at times used interchangeably with
ethnicity , (just as it is the case with Jews and Judaism).

As a national institution, the Church is a bridge Armenians use
to walk back and forth between two cultures– Armenian and
American.  Rather than assimilation or acculturating in the
American culture, Armenians absorb aspects of the American
culture without losing their own identity.  The bridge is employed
in order to obtain acceptability, but is never crossed with the
intent of permanent residence on the other side.  Instead, it is a
catalyst to employ when necessitated by certain
social situations, but a return is always made to the Armenian
culture.  It serves to gain acceptance while maintaining ethnic,
Armenian distinctiveness.1

Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan further specifies this nationalistic
tendency. He writes, that those who claim the Church is the same
with our nation–and that the Armenian Church is the only
protector and sponsor of our national identity–are misguided.
Because, that has never been the purpose of the Church’s national
character, it is only a partial quality, a consequence of the
circumstances, and often an additional function which the Church
has assumed due to the absence of a viable national
institutution . . .. Going a step further, the accented
nationalism of our Church is the result of her failure, for
various reasons_.One thing is clear that the Church is not a tool,
as some nationalists want to make it, using the Church for their
own partisan interests.  Even some clergy think the same way, but
they are not faithful to their true calling.  The Church is the
agent of the Gospel primarily and absolutely.  And her virtue
rests entirely on this attribute.”2

On the individual  level, the core of the problem is
socioeconomic variables–such as education, occupational
achievements, socia
l status and  income–or the embourgeoisement  of the Armenians, as
Dr. R. Hrair Dekmejian applies  the term.  He writes, “since their
arrival in the United States, the Armenians have joined the
general American quest for upward socioeconomic
mobility (italics is mine), and they have succeeded in this quest
on the whole more than most ethnic groups in America.  This
achievement of socioeconomic success has reinforced the inbred
conservatism of the Armenians . . . . Thus, the upper and
upper-middle class sectors of the community display a strong
commitment to maintain their status of material wellbeing, as has
been the case with other ethnic groups. These classes tend to
oppose militancy and excessive manifestations of ethnic
nationalism.”3

To a certain extent, “opposing excessive manifestation of ethnic
nationalism” is similar (if not the same) as opposing excessive
manifestation of our Armenian Christian
FAITH.  The “commitment to material wellbeing” of Armenians is
reflected also in the concern for the material wellbeing of the
Church.  In our quest to be the most financially secured church in
the community, we forget that the Church is the Body of
Christ, ecclesia, the gathering of people. What good is it to have
a rich church without people?  What good is it to have a big
church which is full only when there are requiems (hokehankist)?
We have come to a point where we pray more for the dead
than worship with the living; Church means a building where Divine
Liturgy is performed  every Sunday of the year; Church community
means simply baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

Finally, the problem is organizational.  The administrative
skills of Armenians have improved over the years and in many cases
they have become very sophisticated, but this, for the price of
losing the churchUs apostolic  identity, i.e. ArmeniansU
mission as messengers of Christ’s Good News. (Though the word
apostolic  denotes the foundation of the Armenian Church by the
two Apostles of Christ, it literally describes that which has
“been sent” to accomplish a task; in Armenian the word is
arakel ).4

Apostolic mission  is not simply a theological characterization,
but rather a task that Christ entrusted the Church and showed her
with his own example.   Christ healed, preached, comforted, loved
and lived with the poor. He lived with the blind,
the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable, the
sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the possessed, the
persecuted, the captives. Christ lived with laborers and
overburdened, the rabble, the crowds, the little ones, the
least, the last and with the lost ones.  Christ lived with all
these people.

Robert Michels, a German sociologist, commenting on the goals of
organizations notes that, ” . . . when an organization displaces
its goals–that is, substitutes for its legitimate goal some other
goal for which it was not created, for which
resources were not allocated to it, and which is not known to
serve,” an organizational distortion occurs.  Furthermore,
“organizations are instruments; they are created to serve one or
more specific goals.  But in the process of forming them, of
granting them resources, and of recruiting personnel , interest
groups are formed which are frequently concerned more with
preserving and building up the organization itself than in helping
it to serve its initial purpose.  These interest groups use
the organizational goals as means to recruit funds, to obtain tax
exemptions or status in the community, in short, as means to their
own goals.”5

Paradoxically, as it is characteristic of Armenians, we are
starting a new  publication  because it is not possible to have
such a publication.  Perhaps this objective  and
approach best describes the current state of affairs.  We answer a
question by asking another one.  For example, if one asks “how are
you,” the answer is “how about yourself?” Once we decide to deal
with a question, we realize that there are many
dependent  questions  that need to be answered before even we can
consider the first one.  Then, while we are trying to answer the
related questions of an issue, we forget or lose sight of the
initial question that we asked.  Hence, exploration
becomes or has become a viable substitute for action .  Obviously,
at times, the problems are overwhelming.  They need long or short
term solutions.  Rather than finding concrete solutions, we get
discouraged by their complication and the amount of
work that is needed to unravel them.  Rather than finding concrete
solutions, (however small they may be),   we appoint committees
“to find the facts.”  Then the committees discover what were
already known, but in a written form. Once the report  is
complete, we find out there are no funds to implement or
materialize the solutions. What do we  do? Shelve them!
The best way we could deal with our problems is to start
somewhere, at a certain point.  Our preoccupation with quantity of
time has forced us not to seek qualitative solutions to our
problems. At times we have come up with good  solutions, but
only to find out that eventually the problems will “haunt” us
again.  To better illustrate the dilemma, this is how the Catholic
diocese in Brownsville, Texas, dealt with a given problem, which
happens to be the case of Central American  refugees.
Bishop John Fitzpatrick explains:

“There was no great thought given.  The people just came and we
fed them.  There was no question that these people were hungry.
We didn’t have to have a meeting; no committees were named; we
didn’t have to go to any other bodies to see what they
thought.  A lot of people from various parishes sent us food.
Later I got a lot of help from the American bishops, who still
send me funds.  We have given out about one and one half million
meals — rice and  beans one day and beans and rice the
next day, but it is better than nothing. . . . We are used to poor
people, and we take care of them.  There are maybe 100,000
illegals from Mexico . . . . some of them are new, but many have
been here for years. Without the help of the Catholics of
the United States we would not be able to keep going.  We are kind
of poor down here. We have had our hands full taking care of these
people.”

“I am nobody because I feed a few people.  That is what we are
supposed to be doing as Christians.  Some people want to make a
big deal of it. They have a picture of me next to Romero [the
assassinated Archbishop of San Salvador].  but I am no
prophet.  I am a nobody.  I am not being humble.  If
somebody is hungry, you feed them.  You don’t expect a
Congressional Medal for it and neither do I.”

“I have been here 18 years.  Time goes fast when you are having
fun.  I spent 10 years with the Cubans and five years with
Italians in Buffalo.  But I think I am better working with poor
people than I am working with sophisticated people.  I like
it here.  I like the people.  They are very easy to work with,
very appreciative.  The are very cooperative.” 6

Perhaps the solution in Brownsville, Texas seems very simplistic,
nevertheless it is the “success story” of a given community faced
with a given problem.   The story proves, once again, that
pastoral practicality is more important than  politics
and ideological gridlocks in solving problems.  This does not mean
in any way, that Armenians are not practical in resolving their
problems. However, sometimes we need a window  view of ourselves,
because by removing ourselves from the picture we
gain greater insight into what truly is there.

_____________________

1cf. Paul Rutlege, The Role of Religion in Ethnic Self-Identity,
(University Press of America: New York 1985),  pp.49-59.
2Nersoyan [Abp. T.],”Nationalism or Gospel?” trans. Fr. Arshen
Aivazian, Armenian Reporter,  October 5, 1989.
3″The Armenian Perspective,” Journal of Armenian Studies, Vol.
III, Nos. 1&2, 1986-87, p.    11.
4For further discussion on the terminology see Thomas Hopko,
Doctrine , (DRE: Orthodox Church in America, 1984), pp.126-8.
5Amitai Etzioni, Modern Organization , (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,
Inc.), 1964, p. 10.
6″People Came: We Fed Them,” Maryknoll , November 1989, p
p. 19-21.

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I WAS HUNGRY

I was hungry and you told me to wait.
I was hungry and you set up a commission.
I was hungry and you said, so were my ancestors.
I was hungry and you said God helps those_.
I was hungry and you told me I shouldn’t be.
I was hungry and you said the poor are always with us.
I was hungry and you blamed the Congress.
I was hungry and you blamed it on the communists.
I was hungry and you circled the moon.
I was hungry and you told me Jesus saves.
I was hungry and you prayed for me.
I was hungry and you said we don’t hire over 35
I was hungry and you told me machines do that work now.
I was hungry and you had napalm bills to pay.
I was hungry and you said I don’t speak Armenian.
I was hungry and you said I am not Armenian.
I was hungry and you said I ask too much.
I was hungry and you said I have a meeting.
I was hungry and you said I am too busy.

Lord, when did we see you hungry?
Matthew 25:44

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Dear :

We trust you have enjoyed this premiere issue of WINDOW view of
the Armenian Church. Your comments and participation are always
appeciated.  Please let us know what you think.
Thank you for opening a new WINDOW view of the Armenian Church.
–The Group

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