FaithWorld

Cross controversy mars historic Armenian Orthodox service in Turkey

armenian 1 (Photo: The Church of the Holy Cross, an Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, September 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)

The first Armenian Orthodox ceremony in nearly a century at a church in eastern Turkey was overshadowed on Sunday by a partial Armenian boycott because of the Turkish authorities’ refusal to place a cross on the roof of the building.

Nearly a thousand Armenian Orthodox worshippers out of the expected 5,000 people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Cross, which the government has hailed as a sign of growing religious tolerance — see here and here — in the predominantly Muslim country, which is a European Union candidate.

The church, which has been closed for services since the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman troops, has become a symbol of Turkey’s troubled past with its Armenian minority and a painful process of reconciliation.

Earlier this year Turkey agreed to open the site, which sits on the island of Akdamar in Van Lake, for services once a year. “I am so happy to be here. I want to thank the government for letting us be here at this historic moment,” one elderly woman, who identified herself as part of the Armenian community in Turkey told Turkish television.

Read the full story by Umit Bektas here.

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Turkey reopening ancient Armenian church to heal wounds

akdamar 1 (Photos: The Church of the Holy Cross, Akdamar Island, 27 June 2010/Umit Bektas)

Swallows dart around the dome of the 10th century Armenian church rising from Akdamar Island set amid the turquoise waters of Lake Van.  Tombstones with ancient Christian inscriptions and crosses lie scattered among the weeds in the garden, where day-trippers picnic in the shade of almond trees and sunbathe after a swim.

The serenity of the scene belies a traumatic past that haunts Turkey and Armenia to this day.  The Church of the Holy Cross, which is now a state museum, has become a symbol of a tortuous reconciliation process as Turkey prepares to open the site on Sept. 19 for a one-day religious service that could become an annual event.

“This church is very important for Armenians, not only in Turkey, but across the world,” said Archbishop Aram Ateshian, a spiritual leader from Turkey’s surviving Armenian community.  “For decades, we could not say mass or have a religious service because it was forbidden by the government.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Giving no quarter, Jerusalem’s Armenians keep flame alive

armenianThe rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.

But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.

For a look at the issues, you can read our story and the accompanying factbox.

The Church itself, proud of a tradition that it was an Armenian king in 301 who first adopted Christianity as a state religion (some years before the Roman Empire), is  a solid fixture of Christian Jerusalem. The small ethnic Armenian lay community around it feels less sure of its future.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.

For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel's hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.

But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.

PAPA DIXIT — Pope’s last day and departure for Rome

On the last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict visited the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic partriarchates, prayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and delivered a farewell address that touched on the main political points of his trip.

Here are some excerpts from his speeches:

pope-greekAT THE GREEK ORTHODOX PARTRIARCHATE OF JERUSALEM:

ECUMENISM: “I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives. Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission.” (Photo: Pope Benedict presents a book at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, 15 May 2009/Pool).

AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE:

Religious rumble slide show

OK, it happened a few days ago, but I still can’t get over that “Christian” fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem between the Greek Orthodox and Armenians. Our photo desk has put together a slide show of Ammar Awad’s shots from the scene — click here to see it.

Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land

Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Worshipper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 8 2007

Christian factions have squabbled for years over who controls which parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s divided Old City.

Sometimes they even come to blows.

Priests and worshippers at an Orthodox Palm Sunday celebration on April 20 ended up brawling after Armenian clerics apparently kicked a Greek Orthodox priest out of a shrine at the church — one of Christianity’s holiest.

A visit to an Armenian church in Islamic Iran

Iran’s Black Church stands near Chaldoran, 650 km (404 miles) northwest of Tehran The rest of the world often forgets that there are Christian churches dotted across the Muslim world and some of those communities date back to the earliest years of the faith. Fredrik Dahl and Reza Derakhshi from our Tehran bureau recently visited a remote medieval outpost of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their report says:

The last priest left the Black Church more than half a century ago and now the picture on the wall of a former monk’s cell is of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, not Jesus.

But Iran says this medieval Armenian Christian retreat in a mountainous region close to Turkey and Armenia shows it is observing the rights of other faiths.