Zareh I Catholicos and the Armenian Church of America

After the election and consecration of Vazken I as Catholicos of All
Armenians in 1955, events were taking place in Antelias, Lebanon, which
would harden the split in the Armenian Church in America and have an affect
on Armenian church dioceses in other parts of the world as well.

Upon the death of His Holiness Karekin Hovsepian, the See of Cilicia fell vacant. The election of his successor did not take place for four years, not until 1956.

There was a struggle, apparently, going on among the various Armenian
political factions in Lebanon for influence within the Church. When the
election finally took place, Bishop Zareh Payaslian of Aleppo, Syria, was
designated as the new Catholicos. Vazken I, who was present at the
proceedings but left before the voting, issued a gontag (encyclical) in
December of 1957 in which he called the election "biased and imperfect".

The net result was that three Armenian bishops could not be found to consecrate the Catholicos designate. Finally, two Armenian bishops and one Syrian bishop performed the ceremony. In was in this atmosphere of contention that the Armenian parishes in the United States, today called the Prelacy churches, applied in late 1957 to Catholicos Zareh to be taken under his administration. In this way, the split in the Armenian Church in America was deepened with the Prelacy group declaring allegiance to Catholicosate of Cilicia.

The old animosities were hardened, and only a few had hope of healing the breech. Over the years the Prelacy churches have tended to retain their use of the Armenian language, expended great effort in `Armenianizing' their youth, were the recipients of many of the later immigrants from Lebanon and Armenia who were Armenian speaking, and maintained the idea of a united, free, and independent Armenia as a national goal. In a general way, they are allied with the Dashnak (ARF) political party.

The Diocesan churches, on the other hand, began to consider religion more important than nationalism, most quickly lost the use of Armenian language in public gatherings, and tended to concentrate on American education and upward economic mobility. It was only in 1988, as we shall see, that the two `sides' began to come together. In this context we should mention two pivotal events. The great earthquake in Armenia in 1988 and the independence of Armenia in 1991.

Before the earthquake of December 7, 1988, Armenians in America were relatively unknown and, when noticed, a curiosity at best. No one, it seemed, had ever heard of them, and each time a person confessed to being Armenian they would usually be faced with a blank stare. On December 8, 1988, for the first time in decades, the word Armenia was on the front page of the New York Times and other American newspapers. An earthquake had occurred in Soviet Armenia while Mikhael Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet Union, was at a summit meeting in New York. Were it not for the expectations and prodding of the American news media, Gorbachev would probably have ignored the event as was traditional for Soviet leaders. As it was, he soon
announced he was returning to the U.S.S.R. to offer personal leadership to meet the crisis. He did not arrive in Armenia, however, until four days after the earthquake.

Contact: Webmaster

Copyright 2009 by Demirdjian Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/24/13 10:20:03 -0400.