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The Soviet Union The Armenian Church Catholicos Kevork VI Chorekjian The Pontiff Who Saved the Armen
April 02 , 2020 , 12:46
The Soviet Union The Armenian Church Catholicos Kevork VI Chorekjian The Pontiff Who Saved the Armen

Brave Pontiff

(1869-1954)

The Soviet Union

The Armenian Church

Catholicos Kevork VI Chorekjian

The Pontiff Who Saved the Armenian Church

 

                                                                                                Rev. ZAVEN ARZOUMANIAN, PhD

“On April 19, 1945, I was received by Marshal Stalin at the Kremlin and presented my 11 requests listed on the petition labeled ‘for the sake of the rebirth of the Armenian Church and nation’. The Marshal gave his permission for most of them. Gratefully I asked a final request if he would sign the file. Stalin put his signature on the upper left corner of the document with the above date.”

                                                                Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian

Political Pressure

            As the Soviet Union faced the Second World War the state affairs in Armenia turned to the worst. The Church of Armenia suffered gravely following the treacherous murder of Catholicos Khoren I Mouradbekian in 1938, who had earlier appointed Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian his Vicar. The Archbishop, whose 150th birth year was last year, inherited the most trying times in our recent history to keep Holy Etchmiadzin and the churches in Armenia safe despite heavy persecutions. He proved to be the brave cleric who heroically struggled against all odds with high diplomacy even before he ascended to the Supreme Throne of the Church. After the murder of Catholicos Khoren, Archbishop Kevork was the target who was pursued by the authorities wherever he travelled. One evening, as we read in a contemporary review, he was persecuted on his way to Etchmiadzin. Realizing the danger, at mid-night he knocked on the doors of Poet Avedik Issahakian’s residence in Yerevan for refuge. He stayed overnight with the poet and his wife and continued his way the next day.

 

Meeting at Kremlin

            As impossible as it was Archbishop Chorekjian found his way to meet with Marshal Stalin at Kremlin utilizing the war and bribing the dictator who had no choice but to receive him and listen to the requests listed on the document labeled “For the sake of the Rebirth of the Armenian Church and Nation,” asking for the return of the confiscated properties of the Mother See and for the removal of related restrictions. The requests submitted to Marshal Stalin included the convening of the delayed National-Ecclesiastical Assembly in Etchmiadzin to elect the next Catholicos, and in most cases granting his approval along with the Assembly under his signature right at the Kremlin.

            During World War II hundreds of thousands Armenians from the Soviet Armenian Republic were recruited in the Red Army with great numbers giving their lives, while Arch-bishop Kevork Chorekjian stood firm with amazing brevity and diplomacy, challenging all impossible fronts, even to the point asking the Diaspora Armenians, in the Middle East and across the oceans, to raise funds through the churches for the construction and donation of 22 tanks named after “Sassountsi David” to the Red Army to satisfy Marshal Stalin. The offer was important for the Archbishop’s immediate plans, when in 1945 he was called from Moscow through Stalin’s deputy Berea to meet the head of the Union in Kremlin on April 19. As unusual and impossible as it was, the meeting actually took place and Archbishop Chorekjian was successful to meet with Stalin and obtain freedom to pursue the Armenian Church affairs in Holy Etchmiadzin.

            Archbishop Chorekjian presented to Stalin his documented list of 11 requests, and most of them were granted, including the return back to the administration of the Armenian Church the confiscated areas around the Mother Cathedral, to convene the much delayed National-Ecclesiastical Assembly, to open the Seminary after three decades of closure, and to publish “Etchmiadzin,” the official organ of the Catholicosate. The courageous Archbishop at his age of 73 wished Stalin to sign his approval on the document “as a testimony of your special attention for the Armenian people and the Armenian Church.” Marshal Stalin did sign “on the upper left corner of the first page in an angle to read: “I agree, President of the Council of Soviet Union, Yosif Stalin, 19.4.45 AD.” The document was made legal and irreversible. For sure, the aged Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian’s name as a hero will always brighten the sad pages of our recent history. He not only received what he wanted, but he was awarded the “Medal for the Defense of Caucasus.” He returned to Yerevan on April 30 fully accomplished his sacred mission.

 

1945 National-Ecclesiastical Assembly

            Although Archbishop Chorekjian had convened the Church Assembly earlier in 1941, due to the lack of attending bishops and the required quorum of the lay delegates it was dismissed with the unanimous approval of the Archbishop as Pontifical Vicar. Four years later in 1945 receiving permission the Archbishop convened this time a successful Assembly with sufficient bishops and lay delegates attending.

            The Assembly was presided over by His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepiants of the House of Cilicia who had arrived in Etchmiadzin from Antelias, Lebanon, accompanied with his bishops. The main agenda being the election of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Assembly unanimously voted in favor of Archbishop Kevork Chorekjian who assumed the name of H.H. CATHOLICOS KEVORK VI. The presidency of Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepiants at the Assembly was providential and unprecedented in our entire history since both Catholicoi were former classmates and the first graduates of Kevorkian Seminary before the turn of the 20th century. It was the first ever for a Catholicos of Cilicia to pay an official visit to the Mother See.

 

Ten New Bishops Ordained

            In those trying times the number of the Armenian Church bishops was in the minimum. Only 14 bishops existed worldwide including the retired, such as the former Patriarch of Constantinople Archbishop Zaven Der Yeghiayan. A week after his consecration Catholicos of All Armenians Kevork the Sixth took over the task to ordain ten new bishops, basically candidates from the Armenian churches abroad, headed by His Beatitude Patriarch Guregh Israelian of Jerusalem who was elected Patriarch the year before without being ordained a bishop as yet. Three among them were from the two dioceses of the United States, Bishop Vartan Kasparian, Bishop Tiran Nersoyan, and Bishop Sion Manoogian. In 1951 Catholicos Kevork VI ordained five more bishops, including Bishop Vasken Baljian of Romania who succeeded him in 1955 as Catholicos of All Armenians assuming the name H.H. VASKEN I. Among the five was also His Beatitude Patriarch Yeghishe Derderian of Jerusalem.

 

First Encyclical

            In his initial Encyclical of April 1, 1946, Catholicos Kevork the Sixth reflected on his prime obligations concerning “the expectations he had for accomplishing what was urgent, feeling deeply anxious” toward his responsibilities to organize the Armenian Church dioceses both in Armenia and abroad. His main concern was “the loss of identity of our faithful, where foreign standards dominate.” He was an advocate of repatriation of Armenians to our homeland. We all realize that the repatriation of Armenians from the Middle East and Europe was much premature and unwelcome, when false alarm heard loud, and those who migrated felt the heavy hand above them. His Holiness was partly blamed for the encouragement, a move that proved tragic at first, but decades later fruits ripened, as the Soviet regime softened to benefit Armenians and the Republic.

            His Holiness was unhappy with the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople which “has lost its ancient glory and is under threat of ongoing conflict among the clergy and the laity,” as said in the Encyclical. The Patriarchate was vacant following the passing of Patriarch Mesrob Naroyan the year before, and the election of his successor was postponed for no reason. Conflict and illegal actions prevailed by some rebel clergy and their lay followers. The Catholicos of All Armenians took the initiative to punish the rebels who had asked the interference of the Turkish authorities even to the point of invading the Patriarchate in Kum Kapi. He filed his complaints before Jelal Bayar, President of Turkey, rejecting strongly any interference in the affairs of the Armenian Church. With his pontifical authority and the support of Turkish authorities Kevork VI was able to reinstate order in and around the Patriarchate to make the election of Archbishop Karekin Khachadourian possible in 1950.

            Referring to the division of the Armenian Diocese of America, the Catholicos of All Armenians expressed in his Encyclical “his pain and sorrow of all” to see the “return of the united Pontifical Diocese under the administration of the newly ordained Primate Bishop Tiran Nersoyan. His Holiness was reminding the faithful of the American Armenian Diocese “how fateful could be such friction under the shelter of the Holy Church.”