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His Holiness Karekin I Sarkissian

atholicos of the Holy See of St. Etchmiadzin - Supreme Patriarch of Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church, His Holiness Karekin I, baptized Neshan Sarkissian, was born in Kessab, Northern Syria, on August 27, 1932. After attending the Armenian elementary school in his inborn village, he was admitted to the Theological Seminary of the Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia in 1946. In 1949, he was ordained a deacon, and graduated with high honors in 1952. On September 28, 1952 he was ordained a celibate priest, renamed Karekin in memory of the late Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepian, and joined the religious order of the Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia. Upon presentation of his doctoral thesis - The Theology of the Armenian Church, According to Liturgical Hymns (Sharakans) - he was given the ecclesiastical degree of "Vardapet" in 1955. He then assumed the duties of supervisor and member of the faculty of the theological seminary in Antelias, Lebanon. He was appointed dean of the seminary in 1956. 

From 1957 to 1959, he studied theology at Oxford University, in Great Britain, where he wrote his scholarly thesis on The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (published in London by SPCK in 1965, reprinted in New York in 1976). Upon his return to Lebanon in January 1960, Fr. Karekin resumed his responsibilities as dean of the seminary. Following the election of Khoren I as Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia on May 5, 1963, Fr. Karekin became an important aid to the Catholicos, organizing pontifical visits around the world, and taking part in high-ranking ecumenical gatherings with the World Council of Churches. He also served as observer to such historic assemblages as the Second Vatican Council (1963- 1965), the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (1968), and the Adis-Ababa conference of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian Churches). During this period, alongside his regular activities, he lectured on theology, literature, history and culture in a number of schools and universities in Beirut, Lebanon, as well as in Romania, Moscow and Kotayyam, India. In recognition of his intense activities, Fr. Karekin was elevated to the rank of senior archmandrite on June 16, 1963. He was consecrated bishop on January 19, 1964, by Catholicos Khoren I. He received the rank of Archbishop on April 26, 1973. In 1971, Bishop Karekin was elected Prelate of the Diocese of New Jugha in Isfahan, Iran. In 1973, he was appointed Pontifical Legate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenia's Holy Apostolic Church of America (in New York) under the jurisdiction of the Catholicate of Cilicia, and a year later was elected its Primate. He worked diligently in promoting various activities and services in the United States and Canada for the benefit of the people, particularly the younger generation. He played a decisive role in organizing a fund-raising drive for Lebanon during that country's turbulent period of 1976-1977. 

On May 22, 1977, Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian was elected Catholicos of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. He served in the capacity of "Catholicos Coadjutor" until the death of Catholicos Khoren I, in February 1983. At this point he was fully installed as Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. During the 18 years of reign as Catholicos of Cilicia, His Holiness gave a new impetus to religious education, promoted the Theological Seminary, which was transferred from Antelias to Bikfaya, overhauled and modernized the seminary printing press, and established a new museum-library. He undertook extensive pontifical visits to Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Cyprus, the United States and Canada, Kuwait and the Arab Gulf States. Among his ecumenical visits were visits to His Holiness Pope John Paul II; Dr. Robert Runcle, Archbishop of Canterbury; the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches; the Lutheran Churches of Denmark and Germany; His Holiness Shenouda III, Popr of the Coptic Church. In 1989, having completed his term of office as one of the three presidents of the Middle East Council of Churches, His Holiness was elected honorary president of that organization. 

Catholicos Karekin has authored numerous articles and studies on theological, Armenological, philosophical, ethical and literary subjects, in Hask, the official monthly publication of the Holy See of the Catholicate of Cilicia, and other periodicals as well as in the form of books and booklets in Armenian, English and French. During his tenure in Cilicia, Catholicos Karekin paid frequent visits to the Sea of Holy Etchmiatsin in Armenia, the mother see of the Armenian Church, both during Armenia's Soviet period and after Armenia regained independence. In the aftermath of the earthquake of December 7, 1988, he visited the stricken area and expressed solidarity with His Holiness Vasken I, of blessed memory, the late Catholicos of All Armenians. The late Catholicos Vasken I died in August 1994, after nearly 40-year reign as the leader of the global Armenian Church. Armenian Church communities from around the world sent elected delegations to choose a new Catholicos of All Armenians. About 400 delegates met in a National Ecclesiastical Assembly, which began on Monday, April 3, 1995, at Holy Etchmiadzin, in Armenia, to elect the 131st in a continuous line of pontiffs which dates back to the 4th century. On April 4, 1995, Armenian Christians elected His Holiness Karekin Sarkissian as the new Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The enthronement of the newly elected Catholicos of All Armenians took place on Sunday, April 9, 1995, Palm Sunday, at the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. It was the first pontifical election and enthronement to take place, in nearly 40 years, on the soil of the free independent Armenian republic. 

As Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and successor of the Throne of St. Gregory the Illuminator, Catholicos Karekin, now known as Karekin the First, as he is the first Supreme Patriarch to bear that name, has entered a new and challenging phase in his own ministry, even as the Armenian Church worldwide enters a new era of leadership.Catholicos Karekin I has already made his initial priorities clear: boosting morale in the beleaguered Republic of Armenia, rebuilding the administrative structure of the Armenian Church, revitalizing the Seminary of the Holy See of St. Etchmiadzin, and preparing for the upcoming jubilee year of 2001, when the Armenian Church will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the historic conversion of the State of Armenia to Christianity, in A.D. 301. His Holiness Karekin I has undertaken a series of pontifical visits to the various regions of Armenia, including Nagorno-Karabagh. He also traveled to Lebanon, to preside over the election of a new Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.

. On June 29, 1999 - His Holiness Karekin I, has passed away in Yerevan after fighting a long battle against a fatal disease.

May He rest in peace. 

Courtesy of 
Armenian Highland - Armenian Enlightenment Chronicle 
Web site: www.armenianhighland.com
Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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