Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian (1937-2009) was in charge of the Armenian Publications in the Holy See of Etechmiadzin, near Yereven, the capital city of Armenia. He had trained all the bishops of the Armenian Church and was the senior candidate to become the Católica (head of the church). However, he felt called of God to step aside and permit his own former student to be elected instead; for he saw his role to be a selfless mentor of his theological alumni. In September 2001, the Armenian Church celebrated 1700 years of existence and with special celebrations including the building of a new cathedral. He took me to examine the new cathedral, juxtaposed on the earlier temple of the pagan Zoroastrian religion that worshiped fire and which had a large cauldron filled with constant burning olive oil. Soon after my visit, he wrote me this letter:
Dear Professor Houston,
I am still remembering your recent visit to the Holy See of Etechmiadzin and the Church of St. Gayne, where I am in charge of the publication of the books of the Holy See. How nice it was to meet you and discuss about many different matters concerning all Christian churches at this time of year after we have celebrated seventeen hundred years of our own church’s history. Together we discussed especially about the Ecumenical Movement, which was by the grace of the Holy Spirit, established in 1948 in Amsterdam, immediately after the Second World War. I expect that the ecumenical movement became a reality because in many countries Christians of good faith have for many centuries been in pursuit of this dream….
In the Armenian communities, for example, from the 12th and the 13th centuries, Saints Nerses Shnorhali and Nerses of Lambron were advocates for Christian Unity and for the establishment of Christian Nurture for minds and in dialogue with diverse Christian communities.
Now the Ecumenical Movement has been established and in Geneva it has its headquarters, but it seems to have become only a selective movement of ecclesiastical and lay readers. But this doesn’t race to the bottom where there are ordinary lay people. The twenty first century will have to be a century where there is a relational reformation of the Church, where the Ecumenical spirit and it’s ideal of unity reaches to the lowest levels of society and can become not only a movement of the upper classes of society, but for the poor and the fringe levels of society; indeed also at the grass-roots!
The present movement of the world is in turmoil, so we Christians have to find new ways and means to restore the desired tranquility to the world, in order that we may give hope and faith to the people of the world. Everywhere secularization dominates over the Churches and our communities. We must then have a special message for ordinary people. I am very happy that I was born into a Christian family. My Mother’s godly influence has always been with me, as well as that of my Father and Sisters. Our family was pious. Before eating, before sleeping and before starting on anything, we used to pray. Of course the family environment in which I was brought up has always helped me to devote myself to my Church. God alone knows how much I have been useful.
Hope this letter finds you in good health and Spirit. With God’s blessings and with the Love of the Holy Spirit.
I remain faithfully yours,
Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian
This has been the most remarkable Christian experience of my life. I was, by his letter and personal interview/confessing, so moved by his sacrificial renouncing of self-interest, that I held his hand, as if I was in the presence of one of the Apostles. His church seemed Apostolic, indeed, for his church originated only three centuries after Pentecost! Discussion Questions
1. How does reformation of the church come from personal reform?
2. Why does such “reform” begin with family life?
3. Why does the Archbishop Pozapalian say nothing about preaching and all about nurturing as a “father” or as a “mother”?
4. Why does he gently suggest the institutional failure of the World Council of Churches?
Thank you for the simplicity, humility, and gentle spirit of Thy servant, as a retired Católica of the oldest church in the world. May his simple example daily reform us all to become like little children, simply nurturing other “little children.”