The Creed of the Armenian Church, recited every Sunday during the Divine Liturgy, clearly expresses the Armenian Church’s belief in the universality of the Church and the importance of working closely with other Christian Churches as one family.
Toward achieving that goal, the Primate has been actively engaged in extending ties with sister churches, be they Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. The Armenian Church is a member of Churches Together in England and Ireland – the key ecumenical body in the country, and is actively involved with other organisations including the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association. A landmark ecumenical service was held at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, which was attended by H.R.H. Princes Charles and His Holiness Karekin II, amongst other dignitaries and representatives of sister churches.
After His enrolment the Primate visited the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, Archbishop of Westminster as well as the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. The Primate is constantly in touch with Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Bishops based in the UK, and cooperates with the Kensington Council of Churches. The Primate has visited different Churches on the occasion of the Week of Christian Unity and has preached at St Dunstan-in-the-West by the invitation Bishop Jonathan of Fulham. He has given the annual lecture at St. John Chrysostom Society.
Ecumenical meetings are essential for Christian unity, advocacy and justice. In 1962 the Armenian Church joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) as a full member, under the patronage of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. At the 1977 Conference of European Churches (CEC), the Armenian Church became involved with different inter-church and ecumenical organisations.
The Armenian Church has a history of working with different Churches. After the first division in the Christian Church which began at the Council of Chalcedon and which deepened in the throughout the 5th and 6th centuries, the Armenian Church’s life and witness were not carried out in isolation from the rest of Eastern Christendom. Relations were pursued particularly with the Greek Church, the Byzantine Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the Syriac Church tradition and with the Georgian Church. Later, after the Crusades, the relationship included also the Roman Catholic Church under the authority of the Pope of Rome.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Armenian Church entered into a most intense and decisive relationship with the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church also joined the discussions as partners with the Armenians as they shared the same Christological position. Indeed, the 12th and 13th centuries were times of close association between the two Churches not only on doctrinal grounds, but particularly on the level of cultural exchanges of great importance involving figures of the Syriac Orthodox Church such as Michael the Syrian, – known often as Michael the Great – (1166-1199), Gregory Bar Hebraeus and, from the Armenian Church, Catholicos Nerses Bahlavouni – known as Nerses the Gracious – (1166-1173) and Krikor Tegha (1173-1193).
In later centuries when the kingdom of Cilicia entered into a close relationship with succeeding waves of the Crusaders passing through the Gates of Cilicia, the Armenian Church developed various forms of relationships with the Latin Church of the West, because the Crusades included in their leading ranks Papal envoys and emissaries who maintained continuous ties with the Armenian Church authorities. It is a commonly known fact that most of these relations were conducted with political motivations often encouraged by the kings and political authorities of Cilician Armenia with the hope and expectation that through such ecclesiastical rapprochement the Western powers of the time would extend their assistance in support of the Armenian kingdom and people of Cilicia.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Armenian Church with its spiritual centre of Holy Etchmiadzin opened a new page of ecumenical openness, this time with academic centres and circles of German theological scholarship and the Protestant Churches in Germany. The last three decades of the century marked a significant turning point in German Protestant theological thought. Historical and Patristic studies in the early centuries of Christian history had given way to a new interpretation of the essence of the Christian faith. It was in this particular theological scholarly climate that found themselves young Armenian students (mostly ordained deacons) who had come from the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin to Germany, namely, to Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Tubingen, and elsewhere, to pursue their theological studies in German centres of high learning and research work.
With the establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia in 1921 and persecution of the Church the ecumenical spirit declined. It was only possible to have ecumenical openness and develop relations starting in the 1960s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was possible for the Church to do active ecumenical work.