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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: www.post-boks.dk/mrw/valg_af_katolikos_1999-e.html and www.post-boks.dk/mrw/valg_af_katolikos_1999_ii-e.html ---------------------------------------------------------------------- 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.