2013-01-23 07:48:50 - Members of the priestly Brotherhood of St James are meeting in Jerusalem to elect a new Patriarch who will lead the church into the future
From Arthur Hagopian
Jerusalem, Jan 23 - The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is gearing up for one of the most momentous events in the 2,000 year-old history of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land.
Preparations for the election of a new patriarch to succeed the late Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, are proceeding at a brisk rate, with the main event scheduled to take place tomorrow.
Patriarchate sources told this correspondence tomorrow's agenda is designed to narrow down the list of potential candidates to five.
This will later be pared down even further, to two, before the final vote is cast.
Under the rules and regulations of the Patriarchate, any member of the Priestly Brotherhood of St James, that is, priests
ordained in Jerusalem, would be eligible for election. But in practical terms, the incumbent is chosen from among the ranks of the highest princes - the archbishops - of the Armenian church.
The total number of Armenian archbishops who were ordained priests by the Jerusalem Patriarchate today stands at 8, three of them based in Jerusalem, and the remaining five ministering to the needs of Armenian congregations in the diaspora.
The sources revealed that the front-runners to become the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, in a direct transmission from the first patriarch, Abraham, are the Grand Sacristan, Archbishop Nourhan Manoogian and Director of Ecumenical Relations, Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, the current Locum Tenens.
Manoogian (no relation to the late patriarch) was born in Aleppo in 1948 and ordained a priest in 1971. He was anointed bishop in 1999.
Shirvanian, who is older, was born in Haifa in 1934 and ordained a celibate priest in 1957. He became a bishop in 1974.
Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, born in Beirut in 1940 and made bishop in 1988, is the third potential Jerusalem candidate.
Observers have named the Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the United States, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian (born in 1951 in Arapgir, in the former Armenian district of Malatya), as another leading candidate.
The late Primate of the Australian and New Zealand diocese, Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, had been seen as yet another powerful possibility.
As the members of the St James Brotherhood pray for guidance and wait for the fateful day to dawn, Armenians all around the world are watching developments in Jerusalem with great anxiety.
The Armenian church in the Holy City has been forced to wade through the morass of debilitating challenges in recent years, and needs the strength and endurance to maintain its stature and standing not only as the second most vital font of spiritual rejuvenation after the Mother Church in Armenia, but also as one of the three Guardians of the Holy Places.
Tomorrow "will be two important dates not only for the new person succeeding Patriarch Torkom II and leading the church in the Holy Land but equally importantly for the Armenians still living and witnessing in those biblical and also historical lands," says one of the leading commentators of the Middle East religious scene, Dr Harry Hagopian, Ecumenical, Legal and Political Consultant to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Observers note that both of the leading contenders, Manoogian and Shirvanian, are blessed with the requisite qualifications to lead the church into the future.
"Nourhan is a man of steel who is not afraid of a challenge, and has the charisma and bearing of a force to be reckoned with. He has been a pillar of strength in times of crisis for the Patriarchate. He may be brash at times, but his indomitable courage and determination are undeniable. The Patriarchate needs a strong man like him at the helm," they add.
Manoogian is keen to maintain Jerusalem's traditionally strong ties with the diaspora. His recent visit to Sydney, to attend the funeral services for Baliozian, has been seen as further indication of his inclinations.
Observers believe Shirvanian's pronounced tact and diplomacy will be fundamentally important in steering the church through the morass, particularly of the political tint, surrounding it on all sides.
"Despite his soft-spoken approach, Shirvanian has the inner strength of a majestic lion, his sagacity and wisdom evident in all the moves he orchestrates."
Although Shirvanian is not one to shirk a challenge, his preference is for a more softly-softly approach.
In his recent Christmas message, he dwelt heavily on the topic of peace in the region, among the Semitic cousins, Arabs and Jews, ending it with an invocation in Arabic and Hebrew.
The late patriarch, Manoogian, has been known as a reformer and a modernizer, a man of vision although not all his dreams were realized. One of his grand designs was the construction of a hostel for Armenian pilgrims and tourists, another was a residential project that never got off the drawing board.
Will the 97th Armenian Patriarch build on those dreams, or will he have a different agenda to follow?
The next few days may, hopefully, give us an indication of where the wind will lie.