His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia traveled to Iran last week, arriving in Tehran on October 29, to participate in an international conference on religious dialogue hosted by the Islamic Republic’s Department of Dialogue on Religions, Cultures, and Civilizations. The conference, last held in 2005 at the Catholicosate in Antelias, coincided with the Catholicos’ pontifical visit to Iran’s Armenian community.
The Catholicos was greeted in Iran by government officials, representatives from the Department on the dialogue of religions, cultures and civilizations, the Primates of the three Prelacies of Iran, Archbishop Sebouh Sarkisian, Prelate of Tehran, Bishop Papken Tcharian, Prelate of Isfahan, and Bishop Neshan Topouzian, Prelate of Iranian Azerbaijan. Also welcoming the Pontiff upon his arrival were, Armenia’s Ambassador to Iran, Garen Nazarian, the two Armenian deputies in the Iranian Parliament, Kevork Vartanian and Robert Peklarian, as well as members of the Armenian Religious Assembly and Prelacy Council.
On October 30, the Catholicos delivered the keynote address at the conference on “Christian Education Today,” attending, afterwards, a special celebration of the 40th anniversary of Aram I’s ordination as a priest and his years of unwavering dedication to the Armenian Church and nation.
Attending the celebration were the primates of the three Prelacies of the Armenian Church in Iran, primates and spiritual leaders from sister churches, community representatives, the Ambassador of Armenia, the Armenian deputies in the Iranian parliament and large number of the faithful attended the concert, which featured performances by the choir of the Tehran Prelacy and the Symphonic Orchestra performed
Speaking at the event, the primate of the Prelacy of Tehran, Archbishop Sebouh Sarkisian, welcomed Aram I to Tehran and dedicated the holy concert to the Pontiff “as a small bouquet in return for his dedicated spiritual service of 40 years.”
The Choir performed a number of spiritual and national songs. The event also featured solo performances) by Zorig Farhadian, Garine Mouradian, Varoujan Edgarian, Raffi Hovhannesian, Roupig Hovhannessian and Ofig Melikian, who sang the “Mother and Virgin” hymn dedicated to the Holy Mother. Ayrina Noravian and Verjig Tahmazian recited poems during the event.
Addressing the attendants at the concert’s close, the Catholicos thanked its organizing committee and participants for the grand artistic performance. The Pontiff spoke about Armenian music, seeing in it a mixture of spiritual and national elemen’s “which bring us all closer to God.”
His Holiness also officiated the Holy Mass in the St. Sarkis Church in Tehran.
On October 31, the Catholicos presided over a ceremony in celebration held in the “Sasountsi Davit” Hall in Tehran’s Ararat complex. The ceremony kicked off with the Lord’s Prayer followed by Bishop Tcharian’s welcoming remarks.
“Your children surround you today with deep-held feelings of gratitude to bear witness that you have fulfilled their hopes and dreams with your spiritual leadership, your cultural achievemen’s, your activities in our church and national life,” Prelate Tcharian said. “The Armenian church and Armenian life are richer today with your presence; the Armenian church glows with further radiance today in foreign countries and in the families of other churches.”
Prelate Topouzian spoke about the Pontiff’s spiritual service, providing a brief biographical sketch of the Catholicos. “During the past decade, the kind and loyal servant in the first instance decorated and beautified the home closest to his heart, the Mother Church of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, the Bikfaya Seminary and all the structures adjacent to the Catholicosate. The words of the late Catholicos Zareh I were put into action and Antelias did not turn become immobile because you are its heart and spirit.”
Archbishop Sarkisian, meanwhile, presented a lecture on the Catholicos and his activities, talking about his dedication to Church and Nation. “One of the most important characteristics of His Holiness Aram I’s personality is his dedication to hard work. This feature not only became an indivisible part of his life, but also its pivot. It accompanied him from his years as an elementary student to his Pontifical enthronement. I remember from our years as students, Bedros, the acolyte, the Deacon Aram Apegha, the Vartabed, Bishop, Archbishop and Catholicos transformed his life into unwavering, continuous and steadfast work, which was naturally the result of his faith, attachment and commitment to his faith and mission. In the thought of His Holiness Aram I, work is one of the most noble mission by which human beings give meaning to their lives.”
A cultural program, featuring the Armenian Woman Union , the Zvartnots Choir of the Anahit Union, and the Ararat Choir. The chairwoman of the Prelacy Council of the Prelacy of Tehran, Dr. Aida Hovhannissian, addressed the crowd with welcoming words on behalf of the national councils of the three prelacies in Iran.
Taking to the stage, the Catholicos praised the organizers of the event and expressed his gratitude for the kind feelings and words expressed during the event. However, he considered all that praise to be directed towards the Catholicosate of Cilicia more than towards him personally and dedicated the tribute to his person to the Holy See of Cilicia.
“We are not gathered here today to glorify a person. Glorifying a person runs counter to the principles of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. A person becomes a value to the extent that he dedicates himself to the achievement of holy values and purposes. A person’s service becomes true and permanent when it is complemented by collective service through collective life,” Aram I said. “The words of Antelias became its deeds, its deeds became its service; the faith and vision of Antelias became its service and the idea of a free and independent Armenia, the vision of an Armenia with the Armenian tricolor flag became the spirit, path and purpose that carved the Catholicosate of Cilicia’s mission of faith and national service. Today we bow in front of our Holy See’s service and we should do so. All those who served with this same spirit, with this same faith for 40 years, some of them left this world and are gone but others continue to work with the same spirit, the same vision. We will continue the course of our service always in the same spirit of unity.”
Prior to the event, Aram I preceded over the opening of an exhibition of photographs from Holy scriptures. The exhibition was being held in the “Vatchig Gharapegian” Hall of the “Ararat” complex, on the occasion of the Year of Christian Education.
On November 1, Aram I met with the Assemblies of Deputies of the three Prelacies in Iran, as well as representatives from the Prelacy Councils. The Pontiff briefed himself on the activities of the community structures and gave his advice for a harmonious and coordinated work by the three Prelacies. The Armenian Pontiff also visited the Lebanese and Armenian Embassies in Tehran. The Catholicos and Armenian Ambassador Garen Nazarian discussed the development Iranian-Armenian relations, Armenia-Diaspora cooperation and other issues. At the end of the meeting, Ambassador Nazarian granted a souvenir to His Holiness, congratulating him on the 40th anniversary of his ordination as a Priest.
The Catholicos also presided over the 50th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Tounanian Armenian school in Tehran, as well as the groundbreaking ceremony of the Tounanian elementary school and the Sassoun kindergarten.
On November 2, Aram I met with the Head of Iran’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Mehdi Mostafavi, and the Head of %u218Dialogue among Religions’ Department, Dr. Rasoul Rasoulipouri at the Armenian Prelacy in Tehran for talks dialogue of religions and Christian-Muslim cooperation.
The Pontiff also visited the Armenian neighborhood of Zeytoun. After the blessing of the salt and bread, the Catholicos visited the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church with Hrashapar. Bishop Norayr Asehkian officiated the Mass. Primate Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian delivered the welcoming remarks, after which Aram I addressed the enthusiastic crowd, stressing the need for Armenia’s to become integrated in Church life and preserve their national values. The faithful had a unique opportunity to intimately communicate with their spiritual leader during Atchahampouyr.
An official luncheon was later organized in honor of the Pontiff in the “Shaghoulian” Hall in the Sassoun neighborhood with the participation of the Prelacy Council, members from regional councils and other official guests. The previous, Aram I had officiated the vespers in the St. Vartananats Church, where a grand public welcome was held. Armenia’s celebrated their spiritual leader’s presence and listened carefully to his Pontifical address.
After the public gathering, His Holiness inaugurated the new headquarters of the Sartarabad Union. In his address on this occasion, the Pontiff praised those who contributed to transforming their dream into reality by “building a new roof for the Sartarabad Union.” He expressed hope that the new center would be filled with life and would thrive with the community’s collective efforts.