Archive for November, 2012

Domestic Tranquility

November 28th, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the second in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese that we will feature on our blog in the coming weeks. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.)

… During nearly a quarter-century under the leadership of Arch­bishop Torkom Manoogian, the Armenian Church of America encountered several turns and eddies in the stream of events.  But the movement of the current was ever forward.  The diocese realized a level of prestige in American society that the founding generation could hardly have imagined.  And leading the way was an archbishop who embodied the dignity of the Church, the artistry of the Armenian heritage, and the vital spark of warmth and hospitality which characterized the Armenian people at their best.

Archbishop Torkom faced challenges on several fronts, particularly after the completion of the St. Vartan Cathedral.  There was a huge building mortgage to be paid.  People had to be attracted to the cathedral.  Artistic, educational and recreational programs had to be developed.  The “Armenian-ness” of the community had to be safeguarded.  The diocesan center had to be staffed adequately with salaried workers as well as volunteers.  The image of the St. Vartan Cathedral had to be presented objectively to the media; to ecumenical, governmental, and academic circles; and within the Armenian community itself.

The primate did not flinch from the challenge.  He depended on the Diocesan Council, annual regional conferences within the diocese, the clergy under his jurisdiction, the diocesan staff, dedicated volunteers and benefactors to accomplish a great deal.  During twenty-four years of leadership his focus may have become overly diffuse at times.  Yet his larger objectives always remained clear, and his unique charisma never failed to win the loyalty of the diverse segments within the community.  The five easy re-elections which followed his close initial election undeniably attest to the fact that the vast majority of his flock supported and admired him.

[It would be useful] to consider some of the milestones which characterized the primacy of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

• First and foremost is the remarkable duration of his tenure.  His first election was followed by an unprecedented five re-elections, in 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986.  His election as Patriarch of Jerusalem in March of 1990 occurred only a few weeks before his almost certain re-election to another four-year term as primate of the diocese.

• The Canadian churches within the eastern diocese were guided by Archbishop Torkom to becoming an autonomous diocesan jurisdiction of their own.  The Diocese of Canada was constituted in 1984, at which time delegates from its four parishes met in a diocesan assembly to elect their first primate, Fr. Vazken Keshishian.  He was consecrated as a bishop at Holy Etchmiadzin in October of that year.

• His Holiness Vasken I visited the eastern diocese three times during the period.  A visit scheduled for 1973 did not materialize, due to a last minute cancellation by the catholicos.  But in 1987, nearly twenty years after he consecrated the St. Vartan Cathedral, Vasken I returned to America to observe the eightieth anniversary of the death of Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian.  In visits to New York City, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Boston, Detroit, California and Canada, His Holiness met with a variety of American dignitaries, including President Ronald Reagan at the White House.  Catholicos Vasken’s next visit came on short notice, some two months after the December 1988 earthquake in northwestern Armenia.  On this occasion—Catholicos Vasken’s final excursion to America—a bit of history was made when the pontiff invited the visiting Catholicos of Cilicia, His Holiness Karekin II, to join him before the altar of the St. Vartan Cathedral.  The two appealed to all Armenian Americans to look beyond the factional divisions in the community, and unite in the cause of providing humanitarian relief to their devastated homeland.

• The seeds of inter-denominational fraternity planted in the time of Archbishop Nersoyan came to a full blossom under Archbishop Manoogian.  Ecumenical relations were pursued with a greater intensity from the earliest days of his administration, and the cathedral complex was an ideal host for such gatherings.  The Armenian Church of America saw a revitalization in its relationships with the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Episcopalian and Anglican churches.  The primate made a special point of reaching out to the Armenian Evangelical Church, as well.  He developed important ties with the Roman Catholics, enjoying lasting friendships with two consecutive Archbishops of New York, Terence Cardinal Cooke and John Cardinal O’Connor, as well as Bernard Cardinal Law of the Archdiocese of Boston.  He also met with Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

• Archbishop Torkom was also intimately involved in the activities of the National Council of Churches.  As the head of a member denomination, he attended the NCC’s executive as well as governing board meetings, helped to formulate its policies (especially with regard to the Middle East) and met with national political figures, including several American presidents.  The 1980s saw the primate elected to the boards of such religious organizations as the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Religion in American Life and the American Bible Society.

• His activity in all these bodies frequently led him overseas, as did his responsibilities to the Catholicos of All Armenians.  At the behest of His Holiness Vasken I, Archbishop Manoogian made countless trips to Holy Etchmiadzin, as well as to other Sees of the Church, for official meetings as well as informal consultations.

• Early in his tenure, with the cathedral consecration still several months in the offing, the primate opened the door to discussions regarding the reunification of the Armenian Church of America.  This initiated a new phase in the relations between the diocese and its separated faction.

• Archbishop Manoogian proved quite adept at public relations, and enhanced the public profile of the Armenian Church of America as never before.  In anticipation of the opening of the cathedral, Lillian Tookman was appointed as director of a new public relations department, and her efforts brought national exposure to the diocese.  Later, the primate worked with publicist John McBride to lay the groundwork for a more general press relations effort, which contributed mightily to the prestige and recognition of the Church within American society.

• Several firsts were achieved.  The Diocesan Council saw its first American-born chairman.  In May of 1979, it also saw the election of its first woman member, Louise Manoogian Simone, who served as treasurer during her four-year term of office.  Indeed, this was only one example of the burgeoning presence of women in the official lay leadership of the Armenian Church.

Other innovations that occurred on the primate’s watch included the creation of an Armenian Church Endowment Fund; the flourishing of educational programs under the Department of Religious Education and the Armenian Language Lab and Resource Center; the establishment of a summer intern program at the diocesan center; the dedication of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center; the election of a central council for the parish women’s guilds; the publication of numerous new and out-of-print books; the relocation of the St. Nersess Seminary and the graduation of its first American-born seminarian; the initiation of a cathedral communion breakfast and Christmas party for school-age children; and the inauguration of an annual “Women Saints Day” during Lent.  These were just some of the sign posts along the road of this long and fruitful era.

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian