YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The celebrations of 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia came to a head on Sunday with the consecration of a new cathedral in Yerevan. Catholicos Karekin II and other high-ranking clerics from worldwide prelacies of the Armenian Apostolic Church presided over a two-hour ceremony in the presence of thousands of believers and representatives of several dozen sister churches.
The 60 meter-high cathedral of Saint Gregory the Illuminator–the man who converted the ancient kingdom of Armenia into the Christian faith in 301 AD–is the biggest Armenian church in the world. Perched on a hill overlooking central Yerevan–it is now a visible feature in the city landscape. Work on the building began three years is now by and large complete.
In his sermon broadcast live on state television–the Catholicos heaped praise on wealthy Diaspora Armenia’s who have donated the bulk of $10 million spent on its construction.
Among foreign religious leaders attending the ceremony was Patriarch Alexi II of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Addressing the crowd–he said: "This cathedral is a symbol of the victory of Christian hope over the difficult trials suffered by the pious Armenian people over the centuries."
The newly built church on Wednesday will be the scene of an ecumenical liturgy celebrated by Karekin and Pope John Paul II who arrives in Armenia on Tuesday. The joint service will mark an important milestone in the growing ties between the Armenian and Roman Catholic Churches.