Celebrating the Legacy of Catholicoi Zareh I and Khoren I

The year 2013 marks two important anniversaries for the Holy See of Cilicia, as we remember two of our beloved Pontiffs of blessed memory, H.H. Catholicos Zareh I and H.H. Catholicos Khoren I on the 50th and 30th respective anniversaries of their passing.  The life and legacy of our two Pontiffs, and their great contributions to the Armenian Apostolic Church, was honored earlier this year with requiem services and memorial events held at the Catholicosate of Cilicia and its Prelacies, including the Western Prelacy.

On the evening of Tuesday, May 21, 2013, a standing room only crowd gathered at the “Dikran and Zarouhie Der Ghazarian” Hall for a memorial event paying tribute to Catholicos Zareh I “the wondrous” (eskancheli) Payaslian, and Catholicos Khoren I “the builder” (shinarar) Paroyan.

The event was held under the auspices of H.E. Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate, organized by the Religious Council and Prelacy Cultural-Educational Committee, and hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Vicken and Dzovig Der Ghazarian, niece of Catholicos Zareh I.  Two Seminary alumni, Deacon Mark Shirin and Mr. Garo Bedrosian, were invited to speak on the life and legacy of the two Catholicoi.  The event also featured a cultural program of songs presented by Vahakn Hovents and Anahit Nersisyan, both accompanied on the piano by Prof. Levon Aprahamian.

The program officially began with the “Lord’s Prayer” and a requiem prayer, led by the Prelate with the participation of clergy members.  Rev. Fr. Ardak Demirjian welcomed the guests on behalf of the organizing committees and invited the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Kevork Bedikian, to begin the program.

Mr. Bedikian reflected on his own personal memories of both Catholicoi and invited the evening’s first speaker, Deacon Mark Shirin, who spoke about Catholicos Zareh I.

Deacon Mark presented the biography of Catholicos Zareh I, from his days as a young student to his election as Prelate of Aleppo and later as Pontiff.  As Prelate of Aleppo, highlighted Deacon Mark, Zareh I, through his hard work and efforts, succeeded in including Armenian language and religion classes on school curriculums, and was instrumental in the establishment of Karen Jeppe college.  After the passing of Catholicos Karekin Hovsepiants in 1952, due to internal and external conflicts four years elapsed until the election of Catholicos Zareh I in 1956.  Catholicos Zareh I would reign in a difficult political climate, but in his short seven-year tenure he was able to overcome challenges and obstacles and achieved great successes for the Holy See of Cilicia. During his short reign, the service of the Catholicosate was extended to various communities in the Diaspora, among them Iran, Greece, and the United States, communities that had been in desperate need of spiritual care for many years.  Special attention and care was given to the Seminary and its young students.  The relations of the Catholicosate with other churches and states of the Middle East were strengthened and in 1962, the Catholicosate of Cilicia became a full member of the World Council of Churches and sent an observer to the Vatican Council II.  Catholicos Zareh I was mindful and deeply concerned with the needs as well as challenges of the Armenian people, and dedicated his life to serving for the progress of our church and nation with unmatched devotion, humility, and enthusiasm until his untimely passing in 1963 at the age of 48.

Educator and author Mr. Garo Bedrosian was then invited to reflect on the life of Catholicos Khoren I who succeeded Catholicos Zareh I in 1963.  Under the pontificate of Catholicos Khoren I, the Catholicosate went through an era of achievements in various domains.  Mr. Bedrosian highlighted a number of these achievements; a new and modernized official residence for the Pontiff was built, the Catholicosate library was expanded and new books added, the printing house was expanded and modernized, a housing unit for Bishops was built and the area for Brotherhood members renovated, private residences were built in Fanar as well as the Armenian Home for the Aged to care for the elderly, scholarship funds were established, publications were expanded, Pontifical visits began, relations were strengthened between the two Holy Sees, the pursuit of the Armenian Cause and our national rights were strengthened, and the “St. Mesrob Mashdots”, “St. Nerses the Gracious” , “Prince of Cilicia”, and “Knight of Cilicia” medals were instituted.  Overall, through his great efforts, the Catholicosate achieved financial stability and the terrain of was expanded with new constructions to meet the growing needs of the Catholicosate and its faithful.  Due to declining health, in 1977 Catholicos Khoren I wished to have a Coadjutor to assist him.  Archbishop Karekin II Sarkissian, Prelate of the Eastern United States was elected Coadjutor-Catholicos.  However Khoren I continued to closely monitor and supervise the activities of the Catholicosate of Cilicia until his passing in 1983.  With his signature warm smile always illuminating his face, Catholicos Khoren I was a man of action and earned the fitting moniker “builder” for his vast works, concluded Mr. Bedrosian.

The program concluded with the Prelate’s message.

The Prelate welcomed the guests and relatives of Catholicos Zareh I for their presence, thanking Mr. and Mrs. Vicken and Dzovig Der Ghazarian especially for their participation in memorializing the life of their uncle, Catholicos Zareh I, through their sponsorship of the event.  He thanked the organizers and program participants for their contribution to this moving tribute.  The Prelate began his message by echoing the words of H.H. Catholicos Aram I, describing the two Catholicoi as truly loyal servants of the Holy See of Cilicia who served with deep faithfulness and selfless devotion, and left an inerasable mark in the history of the Holy See of Cilicia as models of spiritual leadership.  The Prelate paid homage to the legacy and memory of our beloved Pontiffs by reciting his own composition utilizing the first letters of their names to start each sentence.  He eulogized Catholicos Zareh I as being adorned with virtues, virtuous in character, our “wondrous” Pontiff, blessed missionary of Christ, extraordinary in faith and being.  His Eminence eulogized Catholicos Khoren I as wise in thought, our “builder” Pontiff, strong and dynamic in his entire being, with a presence that was captivating.  In conclusion, the Prelate urged clergy and lay servants of the Prelacy to serve faithfully and with devotion in the ideal example set forth by our two most beloved Pontiffs.

The beautiful and moving tribute came to a close with the Prelate’s benediction and the Cilician anthem.

Guests then enjoyed a reception organized by the Prelacy Ladies Auxiliary.

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