The Armenian Apostolic Church, one of six in the Oriental Orthodox communion, will have a fixed representative in Rome, is same with the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Methodists.
Bishop Khajag Barsamian was assigned in early September as representative of the Apostolic Armenian Church to the Holy See. His appointment is intended to strengthen friendship between the two entities.
Archbishop Barsamian, 67, was Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church diocese in the United States from 1990 to 2018. He is well known for his experience and skill in ecumenical communication.
With the appointment, he becomes the point man in Rome for any matter concerning the Armenian Apostolic Church. His work will be that of a liaison between the Holy See and the Apostolic Church, smoothing communication in both theological and pragmatic problems.
His official title is “Pontifical Legate of Western Europe and Agents of the Armenian Church to the Holy See.” Catholicos Karekin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, informed Pope Francis of the appointment with a letter.
The Oriental Orthodox communion has been different from the Orthodox Church since the Council of Chalcedon in 451. There are 76 million Oriental Orthodox Christians worldwide and 9 million members of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
According to Barsamian, Pope Francis “explained his happiness about this appointment and showed that my presence in Rome would further strengthen the relationship between the Catholic and the Armenian churches.”
Archbishop Barsamian has already begun his duties. A few days after arriving in Rome, he met with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
“Cardinal Koch expressed his support for my new mission in Rome,” Barsamian said. “We had a very constructive discussion of ideas and projects to further make stronger the relationship between our two churches.”
Barsamian also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Barsamian recounted that “in my ministry as a priest and bishop, I have always enjoyed being engaged in ecumenism. During my tenure as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in the U.S., I supported ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue on a diocesan and parish level. And now here in Rome I am committed to continuing that same ministry.”
Among Barsamian’s commitments is that of reinforcing the Armenian presence in Europe.
“There has always been an Armenian presence in Europe,” he said, “however during the past two or three decades the Armenian presence in Europe increased because of the political and economic situations in the Middle East, in the former Soviet countries, and in Armenia.”
He added that “It will be important to build up Armenian Church parish life where communities can come together in prayer, participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and organize educational, cultural and social activities. Likewise, I would like to help Armenian Church communities build strong ecumenical and interfaith activities.”
The eagerness for ecumenism has always been part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, according to Barsamian.
He said that “the 12th-century Armenian Catholicos/Patriarch St. Nerses the Graceful was a great champion of ecumenism, supporting his fellow churchmen of all traditions to fight for ‘Unity in essential matters. Differences in secondary matters. Love over everything.’”
Barsamian noted that “in our world today, we too face many issues, but also great possibilities. Dialogue, cooperation, and formal prayer among different Christian denominations are all relevant to realizing those possibilities.”
Recalling Catholic-Apostolic relations, Barsamian stressed that “since the days of Catholicos Vasken I (1955-1994), relations between the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches, in general, have been progressing stronger and deeper, with a spirit of closeness and collaboration emerging between our hierarchy and clergy.”
The current head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, met Pope Francis twice this year: on April 5, when he went to Rome to take part in the blessing of a statue of St. Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens with Pope Francis; and on Oct. 24, after a pastoral visit in Milan for the 60th anniversary of the Armenian Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sepastia.
Barsamian said that “on that event, the Pope and Karekin II had a very warm meeting and explained problems relating to the issues faced by Christian communities in the world, and they also explained the Middle East and the circumstances in the Republic of Armenia.”
Barsamian concluded that “definitely, such meetings are great privilege to make the connection between the two Churches stronger.”
Barsamian was born in Arpkir, in Turkey, in 1951. He studied in Istanbul, Jerusalem, New York, and Minneapolis, and perfected his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and at the Oxford Oriental Institute.
He served as a pastor in Istanbul, Jaffa, Haifa, Bamieh and in the United States, where he led for 28 years the U.S. diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
He is also president of the Armenian Aid Fund, which aims at assisting Armenia to develop and to bring aid to Armenians. So far, the fund has donated some $315 million.