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During Catholicos Of All Armenians Kevork V Sourenian “Free Church” In Armenia
March 26 , 2020 , 09:06
During Catholicos Of All Armenians  Kevork V Sourenian  “Free Church” In Armenia

Notorious Aberration

(1924-1928)

 

During Catholicos Of All Armenians

Kevork V Sourenian

“Free Church” In Armenia

 

Father ZAVEN ARZOUMANIAN, PhD

 

The reader may ask why pay attention to a movement knowing too well it was entirely reprehensible and worthless. My answer is to write and make our faithful aware once and for all of another infamous page of our recent history which has been surfacing lately during the independent Republic of Armenia under foreign sects against the Apostolic Mother Church.

 

Destructive Movement

            The infamous movement within the Armenian Church at the dawn of the Soviet occupation was a very short-lived aberration, worthless indeed, but still a culpable part of the Armenian history of our recent past. Let me state from the outset that the Armenian Church is the national and the only Church canonically known as such, and if today foreign sects with Armenian followers are trying to gain ground in our country, they are doomed to failure, and the state of the Republic of Armenia should not neglect the honorable place of their national Church for any consideration. The Armenian Church is the church of the country.

            It was entirely against the Mother See and the Catholicos of All Armenians that in 1920’s the so called “Free Church” treacherously insinuated in Armenia with its insignificant followers as the offshoot of the equally miserable “Living Church” started in Russia and supported by the Soviet Union against the Russian Orthodox Church. Those Armenian rebels followed their counterparts in Moscow trying to challenge Catholicos Kevork V Sourenian of All Armenians (1911-1930), backed by the Soviet Armenian government. They were allowed by the Armenian authorities to occupy some churches headed by one bishop and a couple of priests who vehemently stood against the Mother See, demanding so-called “reformation within the Armenian Church” rejecting theology, canon law, and the Holy Sacraments. Obviously the aberration was the by-product of the atheist Soviet system, both in Russia against the Russian Orthodox Church, and in Armenia against Holy Etchmiadzin. Those rebels came out with “personal revenge” to hurt the Apostolic and Orthodox foundations of both churches trying to destroy the hierarchic structure and denying their time honored patriarchal authorities.

 

The “Living Church” Mother of Evil

            The parent of the movement in Armenia was the “Living Church” in Russia that began after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. A year later state and religion separated by the decree of Lenin and religious persecution immediately claimed and occupied properties of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate. The pressure was harsh on 117 million Russian Orthodox faithful and 71,000 clergy. Patriarch Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church was imprisoned where he died in 1925 at age 60.  Schism broke in the church resulting in the “Living Church” and in its offshoot, the “Free Church” in Soviet Armenia.

            In May 1922 the outlaws in Moscow received state protection and assumed “canonical” power and right to punish, to judge and to redeem by making the “Living Church” the executive body of the Russian Orthodox Church, replacing the Patriarchal authority soon after Patriarch Tikhon’s passing.

Patriarch Tikhon

The state in Moscow forced the Church to submit with the exile of hundreds of bishops, the elimination of parishes, and temporarily destroying the religious power in the country. The same happened in Armenia that lasted very short and ended in 1928.

 

The Purpose of the Movement

            The purpose obviously was to destroy the Armenian Church from its foundations, trying to bring in the laity as the “owners” and the “leaders” of the church. Despite the political umbrella, they were very limited, insignificant and disorganized as the Armenian people resisted vehemently with one and united fist as the defenders of the Mother Church and the custodians of the national identity in Armenia. The Mother Church stood tall and strong and Catholicos Kevork the Fifth alert who had resisted the Turks earlier during the Battle of Sartarabad, standing in front of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin strong and determined. As mere adventurers those treacherous schismatic rebels had no place in the church since they were after their daily interests and against the centuries old institution. For the sake of “reformation” as it were, the rebels began changing the orders of the Holy Altar, placing on it only the painting of Jesus, like the protestant churches, thinking they could elevate the caliber of the clergy by eliminating celibacy and distorting the original language of the liturgy. They even rejected the use of the clerical garb and tried to open schools and publish periodicals. The whole movement was nothing but a commotion and confusion, a total failure at the end.

 

The Decree of Holy Etchmiadzin

            Realizing how closely the state of the Republic of Soviet Armenia was assisting the rebels, His Holiness Catholicos Kevork V lamented the occupation of St. Gregory church of Yerevan by the Ministry of the Interior and handing it over to the self-proclaimed group of the “Free Church Brotherhood.” Also the St. Mary church in the region of Nork, the Holy Cross church in Dalaragyaz, as well as the cemetery of the capital Yerevan to be given to “a few defrocked clergy” against the will of the faithful. The Catholicos protested strongly demanding the occupied sanctuaries and warned to expel canonically and defrock the rebels, always with little or no response from the authorities.

            The Catholicos made an appeal to the government of Soviet Georgia in a letter dated June 26, 1927, surfacing the danger. Receiving no response, he was obliged to make an appeal to Federal Republic of Transcaucasia “demanding justice.” The Supreme Spiritual Council of Holy Etchmiadzin   ordered Bishop Ashot Shakhian, the head of the rebels, to come to their senses, telling him to stay away from destructive actions against the Mother Church. Hearing no remorse, the Council and the Catholicos went on to defrock them.

 

The Defrocked

            All advice and warnings ignored, the Catholicos considering his advanced age and having the support of the entire faithful resolved to stop the movement once and for all. He wanted the dangerous state of affairs to end before his demise. Catholicos Kevork the Fifth took final action and in his September 5, 1927 Encyclical defrocked Bishop Ashot Shakhian “who was fallen in conspiracy against the Armenian Church and the Mother See.” Those defrocked included Penig vartabed Yeghiazarian who showed “disrespectful and reprehensible action overall.” Also priest Mesrob Melian, the editor of “Azat Yegeghetsi” periodical who was rebellious against the spiritual authority. The punishment weakened the arrogant movement to finally die in 1928, even though the remnants tried to continue the malice after the death of the Pontiff in 1930. They even attempted to interfere and stop the forthcoming National-Ecclesiastical Assembly from convening to elect the next Catholicos, but to no avail. Times were still dangerous and the authorities were backing what was left to continue harassing the bishops of the Mother See with arrogance and violence.

            In his final attempt Catholicos Kavork the Fifth, now aged and deeply concerned about the persisting danger wrote a forceful letter of protest to the authorities in Armenia dated June 29, 1928 addressed to the President S. Der Gabrielian, demanding control and justice. He also wrote a letter to Alexei Rigov in Moscow. He heard no response to his urgent letters.

 

The End of the Rebellious Action

            The end came soon after and the schismatic rebels vanished when Archbishop Khoren Mouradbekian headed the Mother See following the passing of the brave Cathoicos Kevork V. The National-Ecclesiastic Assembly convened in 1932 and the new Catholicos, His Holiness Khoren I Mouradbekian, was elected and enthroned as Catholicos of All Armenians. With their disappearance hate and persecutions persisted, and Catholicos Khoren I, the Servant of God, gave his life when Armenian communists entered his pontifical residence to demand the keys of the Cathedral treasury. Upon refusal of His Holiness, he was treacherously strangled to death in 1938 at age 65. With the Pontiff’s death the notorious aberration vanished altogether.