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30 June, 1999

HIS HOLINESS KAREKIN I (1932-1999)


It is with regret and a deep sense of loss that the World Council of Churches (WCC) shares the news that His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, Armenia, died yesterday at the age of 66.

From 1975-83 Karekin I was vice-moderator of the WCC Central Committee. At the fourth assembly of the WCC in Uppsala 1968 he was elected to the councilís Central and Executive Committees. He also served on the WCCís Faith and Order Commission.

Born in August 1932 in Kessab, an Armenian village in northern Syria, he was baptized Nishan Sarkissian. In 1946 he was admitted to the Theological Seminary in Antelias, Lebanon. From 1957-59 Sarkissian attended Oxford University, England, from which he received a B. Litt. After his return to Antelias he became dean of the Armenian Theological Seminary in the Catholicossate of Antelias, a position he held until 1973. During this period he also lectured in Armenian studies at the American University in Beirut, served as general secretary for interchurch relations in the Catholicossate and was from 1971-1973 primate of the Julfa-Isfahan diocese, Iran.

In 1973 Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian moved to New York, USA, to take up the position of prelate of the eastern diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. In 1977 the national assembly of the Armenian Apostolic Church elected Karekin Sarkissian as coadjutor-catholicos. As Karekin II he assisted Catholicos Khoren I, whom he succeeded in 1983.

In 1995 he was elected Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, Armenia.

The funeral will be on Friday, 9 July.

The following tribute to His Holiness Karekin I has been paid by the World Council of Churches (WCC):

"His Holiness Karekin I, lies in Godís peace after a long illness. He will be remembered by all those who knew him as an outstanding Spiritual Leader, and a committed Ecumenist.

The Outstanding Spiritual Leader
Nishan Sarkissian, an outstanding deacon born in Kessab (Syria) of the brotherhood of the Catholicossate of Cilicia (Antelias, Lebanon), was ordained priest in 1949. He was given the name Karekin, in memory of the Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepiants. The priest Karekin lived his vocation as a pastor and teacher of the Armenian Church dynamically and creatively. As the Dean of the seminary of the Catholicossate, he devoted himself to the preparation of a new generation of clergy to become, in his own words, 'Ambassadors of Christian Faith,' so that they might make new 'Ambassadors' among the people. It was with this zeal that in 1963 he established in Lebanon the Armenian Apostolic Church University Students' Movement which continues until today.

Archbishop Karekinís spiritual journey led him to become the Prelate of the Dioceses of New Julfa (Isfahan, Iran) in 1971. He modernized the Armenian museum and library of New Julfa, thus reviving the long history and heritage of Armenians in that region. He became The Delegated Representative of the Catholicos Khoren I to the Eastern Diocese of New York (USA) in 1973. He reorganized the dioceses of both New Julfa and New York, thereby enhancing the spiritual and cultural life of his people and encouraging the publication of cultural, spiritual theological literature by new authors.

Catholicos Co-Adjutor (1977-1983) and elected Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon (1983-1995) Karekin continued his leadership in the same dynamic way. During this period he established the 'Day of the Armenian Book,' in which he invited all dioceses to organize one week of exhibitions, lectures and other presentations to help the public appreciate past and present Armenian literature. Whether outside Lebanon, or as Catholicos of Cilicia, he also accompanied the faithful in Lebanon during the difficult days of civil war. In 1988, soon after the disastrous earthquake in Armenia, he focused his thoughts and actions on the reconstruction of the newly independent country.

In 1995 he was elected Catholicos of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin (Armenia). As Karekin I, he continued to live his vocation and articulate his vision in the same enthusiastic way, while struggling against his fatal illness. His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I will always be remembered by the Armenian people through his writings and his deeds. However, in the coming few years he will most be remembered for his unfinished agenda. He was the Co-President (with the Catholicos of Cilicia, His Holiness Aram I) of the Pan Armenian Committee which is preparing and coordinating the celebrations of 1700 years of Christian Armenia, to be culminated in the year 2001. His last courageous act, as part of these celebrations, was his insistence on attending the opening of the exhibition of the Treasures of Armenian Spirituality and Culture in the Vatican Museum on March 1999 with His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

The Committed Ecumenist
Father Karekin Sarkissian was one of the important architects of ecumenical relations in modern times. In 1955 he participated in the Middle East Youth Conference in Beirut. As a result of his initiatives, with the support of His Holiness Zareh I, the Catholicossate of Cilicia joined the ecumenical movement and became a member of the WCC in 1962. Father Karekin was an observer to the Vatican II Council (1962) and in 1968 at the Lambeth meetings. In 1963 he attended the World Conference of Faith and Order and continued to be a member of the Standing Commission. To strengthen the ecumenical relationships of the Catholicossate of Cilicia, in the '80s he organized visits for His Holiness Khoren I to the Archbishop of Greece, to Pope John Paul II, to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the World Council of Churches.

For many years Father Karekin, then Bishop and Archbishop Karekin, attended WCC Assemblies from New Delhi (1961) to Vancouver (1983) either as observer or as the Head of the delegation of the Catholicossate of Cilicia. In 1968, at the Uppsala Assemby he was elected a member of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches.

At the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1975, held in Nairobi, Catholicos Co-Adjutor Karekin was elected as Vice-Moderator of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches.

His Holiness Karekin I was instrumental in the establishment of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). After his term as President of MECC was over, he was nominated as Honorary President.

Starting with the establishment of the MECC and the Nairobi Assembly, His Holiness Karekin I, together with his student, Father Aram Keshishian (the future Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia), strengthened and deepened the ecumenical relations of the Armenian Apostolic Church on the world level as well as regional and national levels.

There is a body of literature accompanying H.H. Karekin Iís ecumenical journey, most significant of which is his doctoral dissertation on 'The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church'. In his life, deeds, and writings he carried the Christian vocation of being an 'Ambassador' for the restoration of the unity of the church and the spiritual enrichment of both of his people, the Armenian people and the people in the oikoumene."


For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.