On 24 June a delegation from the Australian Middle Eastern Apostolic Churches Conference (AMC) under the leadership of Archbishop Robert Rabbat, Eparch of the Melkite Catholic Church left for Yerevan where His Grace Bishop Haigazoun Najarian was waiting to greet them. The delegates were the guests of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
The delegation was comprised of:
- His Eminence Archbishop Julian Porteos, Archdiocese of Catholic Church, Tasmania
- His Eminence Archbishop Robert Rabbat, Eparch of the Australia and New Zealand Melkite Catholic Church
- His Grace Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of Australia and New Zealand
- His Grace Bishop Daniel, Archdiocese of Sydney Coptic Orthodox Church
- His Grace Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, Eparch of Australian Maronite community of St Maroun
- Very Reverend Father Parsegh Sousanian, Parish Priest Australian Armenian Catholic Community
- Father Eli Nakhoul, Dean of St Maroun Cathedral Redfern, Maronite Parishes in NSW
Also joining the delegates from Lebanon were Hala Homsin, a reporter from the leading Arabic-language newspaper in Lebanon and the Middle East, Al Nahara and Rudolf Farah from Télé Lumière ecumenical Christian television. The Mother See accommodated the guests with private rooms, and provided all their transport and needs during their stay. His Holiness made the Baptismal Chapel available to the holy fathers for their morning prayers and vespers. It is noteworthy that the clerics joined together ecumenically with prayers and hymns at every church and holy shrine they visited.
On Monday 25 June the delegation had the opportunity to visit the Gayane and Etchmiadzin Monastery complex to become acquainted with the social services of Etchmiadzin, the Christian education department and the preservation of national treasures, the preaching ministry, etc extending a monetary gift to Reverend Father Margos Mangassrian, director of the Social Services office.
On Tuesday 26 June His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos of All Armenians received the church leaders of the sister churches. He confirmed the visit of the delegation to Armenia and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was the best witness of the good fraternal relations between our churches. In this light, the Catholicos reiterated how this visit would further strengthen the bonds between our churches. He recalled how the Patriarchs of the Coptic, Assyrian and Maronite Churches had visited the Mother See as its guests. He expressed his gratitude for the cordial relations between our churches and conveyed his greetings to the Patriarchs.
On behalf of the delegation, Archbishop Rabbat responded to the welcome of His Holiness reflecting on the important mission of the Armenian Church. He extended the solidarity of the AMC delegates with the Armenian people and the Armenian Church as well as for the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. Referring to the Old Testament, he recounted the Garden of Eden as the source of the Euphrates and Tigris, also Mount Ararat as the beginning of the new world in which case he said “we are all children of the land of Ararat thus returning to our homeland.” A plaque was presented to His Holiness signifying the pilgrimage of this delegation to the first Christian nation. They also presented a small monetary gift as a token of support of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Also present on this occasion were His Eminence Archbishop Nathan Hovhannissyan (Director of the External Relations and Protocol Department of the Mother See), Very Reverend Father Shahe Ananyan (Director of the Ecumenical Relations Department of the Mother See).
During all the pursuant visits, a reporter and cameraman from the Mother See’s Shoghagat television channel accompanied the delegation, as did the national C1 television channel at government and official visits.
Later in the day, the delegation visited Dzidzernagapert where they laid wreaths and flowers at the Genocide monument, offered their prayers and visited the Genocide Museum. Here the Vice-Director provided a detailed briefing on the Armenian Genocide and the work undertaken by the Museum. The delegation then presented him a commemorative plaque on this historic meeting and Fr Nakhoul spoke on behalf of delegation expressing “we are here today to demonstrate our solidarity with the Armenian people. Destructive forces attempted to annihilate you from the face of the earth but you survived and multiplied, by reuniting to live together in this wonderful, independent country”.
This was followed by a visit to the Madenataran, the Manuscript house where they were given a tour and explanation of the rich culture of the Armenian and surrounding people.
On Tuesday 27 June the delegation, accompanied by His Eminence Archbishop Nathan Hovhanissyan, met with the Minister of Diaspora, Mr Mkhitar Hayrabedian. Bishop; Najarian congratulated the newly-appointed Minister to his position,
stating, “We are hopeful the great experience and vigour of the diaspora will be utilised to strengthen the Motherland. We believe the new government will further the expressions for freedom and justice.”
The Minister thanked the delegation for the visit expressing how honoured he was to receive the heads of churches as his guests. He said, “For me, the Church and Christianity represent love, care, solidarity and I wish to express that the present government is led by these principles.”
At the conclusion of the meeting questions were posed on how repatriation will be coordinated, what is the fundamental mission of the Ministry, what strategies are there to entice the diaspora to get involved in Armenia. The Minster responded to all the questions and suggested working together in a joint program on some of these issues.
On the same day, the delegation met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for a 45-minute meeting. The Prime Minister welcomed the guests in English and stipulated he would stand firm with the Armenian Apostolic Church to deepen the relationship. He embraced the importance of strengthening relations between Christian Churches and the people in pursuit of harmony.
Bishop Tarabay emphasised the strong bond between the Armenian Church and the community in Australia as well as the collaboration between the churches which is important to overcome genocides and inflexibility. He expressed his joy at the positive developments of Armenia’s political situation. The Prime Minister responded to all the questions posed to him relating to the pre-elections, corruption, internal growth, strengthening the populace and foreign relations.
On Wednesday 27 June the group visited the Garni temple followed by the Geghard Monastery. A holy father of the Geghard Monastery sang a hymn which touched and amazed the visiting guests. The delegation then visited the Khor Virab where they were introduced to the torment of St Gregory the Illuminator and understood more closely how Armenia became a Christian nation.
On Thursday 28 June the delegation left for Gyumri and visiedthe Hariji Monastery on the way. After being welcomed at the Yot Verk Church by His Grace Bishop Mikael Ajapahian, Primate of the Diocese of Shirak, the delegation continued on their way to become guests of the Armenian Catholic Prelate, His Eminence Rafael Minassian at the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Church and the St Gregory Naregatsi Parish. The delegates also visited the Caritas sponsored Little Prince Disabled Children’s Centre where care is provided by Armenian and non-Armenian specialists of whom many are volunteers. The delegation presented a monetary gift to the institution.
On Friday 29 June the delegates headed to Sevan, Dilijan and the Haghartsin Monastery where they were welcomed by the Primate of the Diocese of Tavush, His Grace Bishop Bagrad Galstanyan. The natural beauty and the amazing architecture of the area fascinated the delegates, many of whom decided to return to this beautiful country. In Sevan the group visited the Vazkenian Seminary. On the grounds of the seminary, a number of trees are planted by various Patriarchs of which one was the former Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III. Enlightenment on the Patriarch revealed the fraternal relations experienced with the Armenian Church generally.
The members of the delegation were also the guests of the Consul-General of Lebanon Mrs Mirna Khawli who spoke most highly about Armenians and Armenia. Similarly the guests shared their positive impressions, expressing the role Armenians have played in Australian politics and ecumenism. All the speakers commended the NSW Premier the Hon Gladys Berejiklian at every opportunity for the growth of the economy during her term of office and the importance the State places on multiculturalism.
It was due to the refined planning of Bishop Najarian and the gracious support of the Mother See, the mission of the delegation was truly fruitful.