Another year has almost passed us, and we give thanks to the Lord for his blessings and gifts during this time and ask for an equally rewarding year in the next. As you may know, the new year is going to be a year full of celebration for our Church and community in Britain in several ways. To name just a few, in 2020 we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the first Armenian Church in the UK, the Holy Trinity in Manchester. Such a jubilee is also a significant occasion to reinvigorate our communities and to strengthen the Christian Armenian faith of our people throughout the country by giving Armenians from all parts of the UK a chance to connect to each other. Looking forward, we will be also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ASF, which is an event to unite our community around our faith and culture in the glorious July heat.
However, 2020 will only truly be underway once we celebrate, as always, Christmas and the Armenian faith, Սուրբ Ծննունդ. I’d like to share a story of the period below:
It was during this period that Christ was born in the cave of Bethlehem. He was a vulnerable infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. There was no place in the hostels of Bethlehem for him, nor was there any comfort. He was in a vulnerable spot and he was surrounded by animals. It was also during this time that the emperor had issued a decree to conduct a census across his dominions. He was the most powerful person in the Roman Empire, he lived in lavish palaces, his voice could be heard throughout the world from Spain to Palestine, and he had the most powerful and formidable army of the time. Yet as the evangelist tells us, even someone of the enormity of Emperor Augustus, is no match for Christ’ army. This is because, although Christ seemingly did not have much to offer as baby at that point in time – he was the king of peace, whose army is an army of angels which are unmatched in their vocation. It is also for this reason that after the birth of Christ, an angel told the shepherds “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” We can learn from this that in times of uncertainty the weapons of his army of angels are love, compassion and charity and will always guide us through.
Furthermore, Christmas is a feast that invites us to think between the two paradigms of a nonbeliever and the faithful. Now it is our task to demonstrate through our actions where we are within them. Are we going to be Christians only with our words, choosing to continue in the comfortable way of life offered by the world? or are we going to respond to the invitation of Christ to change our way of life, though it may appear so difficult.
As our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ commanded, we must “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mathew 28:19).
I would also like to conclude by mentioning some of my tasks in this letter. The focus of our mission as ordained and lay leaders in 2020 will be the restructuring and rebuilding of our churches as faith communities. As the primate and first servant, this will be my mission in the new year. The church is not and should not be just a building where liturgy and rituals are performed. The church, first and foremost, a place where the Christian Armenian faith is alive for every Armenian and as a parish community. More than ever, there will be events organised that bring us all together under the sacred roof of our Holy Church.
Let us pray that the heavenly star of Bethlehem may illuminate our path in 2020. May our Lord Jesus Christ guide us always and bless our troubled world. May our lives and all our efforts glorify God and edify our people and nation. I wish you a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas.
Bishop Hovakim Manukyan