14 01 2009 - INTERVIEW WITH HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP NOURHAN MANOUGIAN PATRIARCHAL VICAR AND CANON SACRIST OF THE ARMENIAN PATRIARCHATE OF JERUSALEM
|Conducted by: Hagop Antreassian
Before beginning our interview, Your Eminence, may I extend my congratulations on your designation as Patriarchal Vicar which has just taken place.
ANM: Thank you.
HA: Your Eminence, please enlighten us what your duties as Patriarchal Vicar (“Pokhanort”) will entail.
ANM: Let me say at the outset that the Patriarchal Vicar is assigned by the Patriarch. The position carries with it the authority to supervise and monitor the work of the various offices and committees of the Patriarchate, and in that framework, to represent the Patriarch when he himself is unable to attend to those functions. Quite simply, he lends support to the Patriarch.
HA: In recent times, the issue of Jerusalem’s Holy Places has been at the forefront of Armenian concern. Would you please explain the current situation for our concerned people?
ANM: As you know, the custodianship of the Christian Holy Places is shared by three entities: the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscans (Latins) and the
Armenians. When one of the entities tries to interject itself into the boundaries of the other’s rights, this gives way to misconduct and extremes, even including physical confrontations. What happened on November 9 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre came about when the Greek Orthodox tried to impose something that had no validity. They wanted to create a precedent by placing one of their monks inside Christ’s Tomb, near the Angel’s Stone. When we protested, the Greeks attacked our clergy wanting to forcibly place their monk inside. A fight ensued and the Israeli police interceded, an action for which they had been prepared in advance.
HA: You say that the Israeli police had been prepared for this action in advance. Prepared by whom?
ANM: Prior to the Discovery of the Holy Cross Feast, the Israeli police had visited the two Patriarchates in an attempt to bring the two sides to an agreement. The Greeks curtly refused to meet, saying that they had put forth their position, and therefore saw no need to meet.
HA: During recent times, the Greeks have been making attempts to uproot Armenian rights in the Holy Places. Who are they depending on?
ANM: The Greeks adopted this attitude of animosity towards the Armenians five years ago, in the administration of the former Greek Patriarch, Irineos, who previously had raised the issue of the Holy Fire. Hoping to gain a safe, dependable ally, Patriarch Irineos referred the matter of the Holy Fire to the Israeli Government, with enticing promises regarding Greek real estate holdings. The tenure of Patriarch Irineos was short-lived due to an internal upheaval in the Greek Orthodox Church.
He was succeeded by the young Patriarch Theophilos III. With the aim of continuing his predecessor’s anti-Armenian diplomacy, and without resolving the Holy Fire issue, the Greeks brought to the forefront the issue of the
Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross “Kude Khatch”. It is already the second year that the celebration of our Feasts has turned into a serious religious issue brought about by the untoward actions of the Greek Orthodox monks.
HA: We saw the physical violence on television. Did any lay members of Jerusalem’s Armenian community participate in the altercation in defense of our clergy?
ANM: Yes. Some students from the Tarkmanchatz School (even some young girls) who were present at the church service participated and joined in defending our rights.
HA: Are these difficulties going to continue?
ANM: Immediately after this incident, a gathering of the St. James Brotherhood, headed by His Beatitude, was held at the Patriarchate, as a result of which two decisions were made: (a) a letter would be addressed to the Israeli Police Commissioner protesting the appearance of bias by the police in favor of the Greeks; and (b) a letter would be addressed to the Greek Patriarch suggesting that their un-Christian-like stance be altered and that they agree to meet in brotherly harmony to reach an agreement. The day after the delivery of the letter to the Greek Patriarch, our letter was returned with an enclosed note demanding that our letter address their Patriarch as “Patriarch of Jerusalem” and not as “Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem”.
We immediately sent another letter, attaching examples of past correspondence between our two Patriarchs, showing that our letters had always been addressed to the “Greek Orthodox Patriarch”, and their Patriarchs had signed their letters and Holy Places contracts in the same manner. Unfortunately, maintaining the haughty stance they have decided to adopt, the Greeks once again returned our letter. Of course, we
immediately conveyed these events to the Israeli Religious Ministry’s Christian Communities Department.
And now that we near the Christmas season, we and the Greeks have met twice to discuss the issue of the “annual sweeping” of the Nativity Church*, during which they again maintained their stubborn, negative and irresponsible position, always relying of course on their financial capabilities. On December 30, the annual sweeping of The Church of the Nativity will take place. We hope there will not be a repetition of last year’s unbecoming scenario.
HA: Do the Greeks and the Latins have problems between them?
ANM: Of course, they have had problems in the past that continue now and will continue in the future for as long as the Greeks are guided by their arrogant and negative stance, and not only with the Latins but also with the Syrians and Copts as well.
HA: Recently we heard news that, at the St. Kevork Monastery in Ramleh, sacred pictures and church vessels were stolen and the church vandalized. What happened there?
ANM: Unfortunately, the Ramleh Monastery, which is hundreds of years old, is located in a rundown and bad neighborhood. Currently, because of a lack of pilgrims, it does not play the same important role that it did in the past. However, we still do hold an annual pilgrimage to Ramleh on the Feast of St. Kevork, and make other sporadic visits.
Since the Armenian community is so diminished, we were obliged to entrust the Monastery and its protection to an Arab Christian family. After years of that arrangement, the family completely neglected their duties, and tried to lay claim not only to their living quarters but also to the surrounding church property as if they were the landlords. We were obliged to evict them through a court action, following which we were unsuccessful in immediately
finding replacement guardians. Since the Patriarchate is currently undergoing financial difficulties, and is surrounded by unenviable times, our ability to secure new protectors was hampered. It was during this interim period that the vandalism occurred, when young Arab hooligans, finding the Monastery unprotected, occupied it. Sacred paintings, chandeliers and other church vessels were stolen. Now, the Superior of the Monastery, Father Avedis Ipradjian, has tirelessly dedicated himself to the restoration of the Monastery, utilizing the Patriarchate’s meager financial resources. The outside wall of the Monastery has already been renovated and the height of the Monastery’s protective wall has been raised to prevent vandals from climbing over.
There exists a present and immediate need to renovate the living quarters for the potential guardians, to reinforce and renew the roof, and to replace the doors and windows with new strong doors and windows.
HA: We know that the Patriarchate is currently in a very weak financial position. Not long ago the Patriarchate suffered the theft of a significant amount of money from the safe of its Finance Office. Why didn’t the leadership of the Patriarchate pursue this matter more vigorously?
ANM: This was a very sad and unfortunate incident, and was the first time that such a thing had occurred within the Patriarchate. The theft was a large one and very much impacted the current economic situation of the Patriarchate.
The main concern of the Patriarchate’s leadership in not welcoming a thorough police investigation into the matter was probably the following. For a very long time the Government had been wishing to gain access to the Patriarchate’s residents, primarily with the intention of imposing taxes. This access heretofore had not been granted to them. If the authorities had been granted access on the excuse of investigating the theft, they would have
achieved their goal and it would have created a precedent. The Patriarchate’s leadership did not want to give rise to this precedent.
HA: Why didn’t the Patriarchate issue a press report about this theft?
ANM: I know that whatever answer I give, will not satisfy inquiring minds, but I admit that it was a mistake and our people should have been kept informed of the matter.
HA: How much was the amount of the loss?
ANM: It was US$175,000 and a few pieces of gold jewelry that belonged to an elderly resident of the Patriarchate, who had requested that the items be put in our safekeeping.
[End of Part 1. The concluding Part 2 will be soon made public]
* The yearly sweeping/cleaning is a special tradition unique to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, when Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy gather prior to Christmas, to clean the Church and prepare it for the forthcoming Christmas services.
This interview was conducted during the last week of 2008. Fortunately, this year, everything went on normally and there were no ugly occurrences