In Memoriam: Torkom Manoogian, 93, Patriarch of Jerusalem

by Arthur Hagopian, Armenian Reporter

Wednesday October 17, 2012
Jerusalem - Clouds scud across the Jerusalem sky, carrying aloft with them the hopes and aspirations of the city's tiny community of poets, artisans and dreamers, the Armenians.

As they pause in their daily labor to mourn the passing of their spiritual leader, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, many wonder what the future holds for them and for their church, the bastion of their national entity.

The death of the 93-year-old visionary who called himself, poetically, TAM or Shen-Mah, is bound to have a profound impact not only on the life and times of the Armenians of Jerusalem, but on the Armenian diaspora as well.

Armenians all over the world regard Jerusalem, the city of Christ, as their second holiest sanctuary after Etchmiadzin, although it wasn't the quest for religious rejuvenation that first brought ancestors people to Jerusalem: they had arrived with the conquering armies of Tigranes II, a full century before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

They had stayed, settled and prospered, and bequeathed to this immortal city an invaluable legacy of ingeniousness, creativity and vitality. Jerusalem would never be what it is today without the variegated trove of Armenian contribution, among them the city's first printing press and photographic studio.

When Manoogian ascended the throne of St James as the 96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, he reburnished and reinforced the indelible stamp Armenians have left on the city.

And following in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors like the legendary Baron Der and Gregory the Chainbearer, he set in motion a new era of glasnost and perestroika, qualities in dire need at the time.

Among his most memorable achievements are the computerization of the Patriarchate's records, the overhaul of its filing, accounting and database systems and the renovation of dilapidated priestly quarters.

Caught up in the refreshing breezes his advent had launched, life in the moribund Armenian enclave, which occupies more than one sixth of the Old City, took on a new, invigorated meaning.

There was a feeling of almost tangible euphoria in the wake of his election, and there were many who wistfully wished he had come earlier to Jerusalem.

To keep the Armenian diaspora well informed about the Patriarchate and about Jerusalem, he set up a press office (and asked this correspondent to head it) which churned out a steady stream of articles, newsletters and press releases over the years.
Torkom Manoogian with Yasser Arafat and
 Michele Sabbah at Ramallah, 2001

Manoogian had come home. His destiny had driven him from the deserts of Mesopotamia to the golden domes of Jerusalem, on a journey of devotion and dedication, in the service of the Armenian church to which he gave his all.

A prolific writer, his most recent oeuvre was a translation of Shakespeare's sonnets into Armenian.

But his favorite topic was what he called the "impossible love."

"It's the ability, nay, the gift, to be able to love your enemy, to forgive love those who hate you and would do you ill," he explained to me.

A gifted musician, he became the acknowledge authority on the Armenian nations' greatest musical genius, Gomidas.

I remember visiting him two years ago, when he was in the initial stages of Parkinson's, and sitting silently for long minutes, waiting for him to speak. He had great difficulty finding the words until I broached the subject of his book on Gomidas.

The moment he heard the name, his face lit up and he launched into an impassioned discourse.

Manoogian was born on Feb 16, 1919 in a refugee camp near the sand-enshrouded Iraqi town of Baqoubah. As a child, he attended a school in Baghdad, the capital, that Armenians who had sought refuge from the Turkish massacres, had established.

Towards the end of his early schooling, tentative yearnings for something spiritually loftier became insistent, assailing his waking and sleeping hours, demanding satisfaction, and ultimately guiding him in the direction of Jerusalem.

He was ordained celibate priest in 1939 and remained in the city until 1946 when he traveled to the US, only to return a few years later.

Ten years were to pass before America called again. But this time he reached its shores as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian church.

He was elected patriarch of Jerusalem on March 22, 1990.

Throughout his life, Manoogian garnered numerous honors and tributes, both from religious and lay institutions, among them the US Statue of Liberty Medal.

He was also chosen "Man of the Year" by "Religion in American Life." He nurtured a keen interest in ecumenical affairs and has been instrumental in helping maintain the spirit of brotherly relations between the various religious institutions in Jerusalem. (In the US, he had also served on the Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ).
Manoogian had dreams of not only revitalizing Armenian Jerusalem, but also of expanding and reinforcing the Armenian presence here. One of his most ambitious plans was to construct a hostel for pilgrims on land owned by the Patriarchate, but it never got off the drawing board - city hall had other plans of its own.

Manoogian will be remembered as a caring shepherd and reformer. Under his tenure, the Patriarchate workforce almost quadrupled: there were more employees within the confines of the Convent of St James, seat of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, than there were people living there.

And he made sure that paychecks were disbursed on time, a welcome departure from past practices.

When Manoogian arrived on the scene, he discovered chaos. His unrelenting efforts to instill a sense of order and accountability into Patriarchal affairs, have proved successful, to a degree.

"Much still remains to be done," as one clerical source confided.

A perennial diplomat, Manoogian meticulously maintained smooth relations with both sides of the political divide in the country. The aura of charisma that enveloped him and his standing in the Armenian world, could have very easily secured him the highest accolade the church could ever grant: Catholicos (supreme head) of All Armenians. But although he served as Locum Tenens following the death of Catholicos Vazken I, he felt he would never leave Jerusalem.

He was the son of a people that had endured and survived wars and cataclysms, but that had not learned to turn their heart into stone.

Manoogian will be buried on Oct 22, in the Armenian cemetery on Mount Zion, just outside the towering walls of the Old City, bare weeks after the Armenian church mourned another of its princes, Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Australia and New Zealand.

Who will be the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem?

No one will know, until election day. For now, as tradition demands, the residence of the 96th Patriarch has been sealed, guarding his secrets and his dreams.

His triumphs and tribulations remain public knowledge.


Armenian Reporter

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