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Election of Catholicos Armenia 1999 -
	    Between the First and the Second Day

By MTh. Rev. Michael Westh,
Yerevan Yerevan 27. October 1999 19.00 (+0500 Armenian Daylight Time)

Right about now, the National Ecclesiastical Council consisting of the
49 bishops, archbishops and patriarchs along with 400 priests and lay
delegates appointed in the patriarchies and dioceses of the Armenian
Apostolic Church worldwide elects the new catholicos. Yesterday it
became clear that this election is between archbishop Karekin
Nersessian, for many years bishop in the Ararat Diocese, the largest
Armenian diocese with almost 1 mil. people, and archbishop Nerses
Bozabalian, for many years the chancellor of Holy Etchmiadzin, the
very center of the Armenian Church.

One of the major issues up to this election has been the relationship
between church and state. This however, does not mean that the theme
as such has been discussed theoretically. Rather, the preludes of the
catholicossal elections themselves have become a test of the power
balance between church and state, and the principles and opinions that
have determined this relationship till this day.

The relationship between state and church has not yet been clarified
on a constitutional level after Armenia ceased to be a Soviet republic
and was proclaimed an independent republic in September 1991. That is
to say that the balance between the two is regulated according to
regulations adopted during the Soviet period.

Within the Church there exist differences in opinion and approach to
the state, how the relationship should be between state and church,
and how important is the practical and the theoretical regulation of
coexistence between the two. This is only very much like the situation
in almost any other nation of today.

However, especially this election has happened to take place in the
midstream between an old and a new symbioses between state and
church. In an eminent way, this election may become the litmus test
not theoretically but in practice.

No matter the outcome of the elections, it is hard to imagine that
this unclarified relationship can continue much longer. Over the last
couple of years, church initiatives have been taken in order to
regulate the internal affairs, or canon law of the church. When it
comes to a clarification of the constitutional relationship
state-church, nothing has yet caught the eye.

Connected to these matters is the question about the relationship
between the state and the minor churches and confessions that have
emerged in Armenia over the last few generations. But also the
relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is
historically and culturally the national church of Armenia on the one
hand and the other confessions, especially the Catholic and minor
Protestant churches on the other is linked to this whole cluster of
problems and needs clarification.
Attempts to enter new formulations into the constitution have not yet
succeeded. Drafts and suggestions going in a direction similar to the
principles found in the Danish Constitution (1846, latest revision
1958) have been rejected as expressions of a limitation of religious
freedom. In the very first sections in the Danish Constitution it says
that 'the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is the People's Church of
Denmark', and that 'as such it is supported by the state (chapter 1, 
4). In chapter 1, 6 it says that 'the king must belong to the
Evangelical-Lutheran Church'. These principles do not seem to have
suggested any contradiction in relation to the same constitution's
chapter 7,  69 where it says that 'matters regarding the communities
of faith differing from the People's Church are to be regulated
through legislation', and 70 where it says that 'no one can be
deprived from the full access to civil and political rights, or avoid
the fulfillment of any common civil duty'.

One of the most eminent reasons why a formulation of the relationship
between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the State / the other
confessions has not yet been successfully formulated is, that leading
Western countries hold such approaches to the matter undemocratic!
Perhaps they should take a closer look at the Danish treatment of
minority churches!

Meanwhile, until the state-church relation is formulated positively,
the church may remain some sort of guest present only tolerated if it
is unconditional in it support of the state and when it accommodates
to its interests. END

Please find two background articles about the catholicossal elections
in Armenia at: and

Rev. Westh is the Envoy of a church agency of the Church of Denmark.
He has lived in Armenia for the last 5 years and worked closely with
the Catholicosate, in support of the Armenian Church.

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