A conversation with Bishop Serovpé Isakhanyan

The Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. The Christmas services and devotions last eight days in the Armenian Church, until January 13 the birth and epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated. Shortly before the celebrations we speak with the Primate of the Armenian Church in Germany HE Bishop Serovpé Isakhanyan.

Editor (Red.): Your Excellency, it is now the third Christmas that you celebrate as Bishop of the Armenian Church in Germany. We have been living with the corona pandemic for two years. How are you currently?

Bishop Serovpé (BS): Personally, thank God, I'm fine. I am now celebrating Christmas in Germany for the 27th time, but you are right, for the third time as bishop. Unfortunately, it will be the second Christmas that our community and I personally celebrate in an unusual situation. We are used to celebrating the Holy Christmas Liturgies in the presence of a large number of the faithful, and this made us very happy. And of course that was a good thing. Christmas - the celebration of the birth and appearance of Christ - is also a family celebration. Many came to church with the whole family and took communion. After the Holy Liturgy, various community events took place. You got the pleasant feeling – we are one big family. Now - due to the corona virus - we have to do without many such events. The number of participants in Christmas services is also decreasing. Active community life has shrunk. Hopefully we will have a different situation again soon.

Editor: Surp Dznunt, Christmas is coming. But many Armenian Christians also celebrate Christmas on December 25th. What do you think?

OS: The emphasis is certainly on the word "also". Germany is our new home. We integrate into the new society and regard it as ours. A so-called diaspora person often lives with two identities. (Diaspora) Armenians have centuries if not millennia of experience of living outside of Armenia, adapting, integrating into the new society, but not losing themselves. I hope it stays that way in Germany too. And the children have an advantage: they get their presents twice :-). As long as one's own Armenian tradition and faith are cultivated, lived and passed on, I don't think there is any reason to worry.

Editor: At the beginning of the pandemic, congregations streamed their services live. Now only the most important church festivals are broadcast live. Why this decision?

OS: When the pandemic began to spread, face-to-face services were also prohibited. There were no face-to-face services for a few months. The churches and also our diocese had to react quickly and find alternatives. Therefore, in the first few months of the pandemic until June 2020, almost all services were broadcast live on the internet. From June 2020 we were allowed and allowed to offer face-to-face services again, albeit with restrictions. Then, in consultation with the clergy of the diocese, we decided to only stream the services at the big church festivals.

The Holy Sunday liturgy with the reception of Holy Communion is at the center of the worship life of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The presence of the community at a Holy Liturgy is very important. With her silent and loud prayers, she directly participates in the celebration of the Holy Liturgy. To do without it would not be the right way. The service is not a film or a concert that you can watch on TV or on your cell phone or laptop. I know that there can be different opinions on this question, but the personal presence is more important.

Editor: What are your plans for Christmas?

OS: At Christmas this year I'll be in Cologne, in the diocesan church. On January 5th, on the eve of Christmas, I will attend the Holy Christmas Liturgy and on January 6th, on Christmas Day, I will say the High Christmas Mass itself. The period up to January 13th is considered Christmas time for us. I will then have the opportunity to visit one or two more churches during this time.

Editor: You were also very active during the pandemic - both in Germany and in Armenia. As you look back at 2021, what are your conclusions?

OS: The last two years have been a very difficult time for the global Armenian community, not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the severe war in Nagorno-Karabakh caused by Azerbaijan. The war has catastrophic consequences. There are thousands of victims to mourn, but there are thousands more refugees. Many people have lost everything. Our diocese also had to act to help these people in need. And it was very comforting to see that our community, its communities and organizations, so many individuals, showed great helpfulness and solidarity and we were able to do our part to alleviate the needs of the people. The support continues today.

The Nagorno-Karabakh war also showed that we as a German-Armenian community should work much harder for just peace. The guns must be silenced and peaceful solutions must be found for the conflicts between states. Before the war, but also during the war, Germany could have played a more active role in urging Azerbaijan to negotiate. The international community's silence and turning a blind eye gave Azerbaijan a free hand to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict militarily. Even today, Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey, continues its aggressive policy against Armenia and Artsakh and does not recognize the right of self-determination of the Karabakh Armenians. Armenia, this small Christian country needs support and solidarity.

Editor: What are your plans for the coming year, what do you wish from God, from the Armenian community in Germany and from yourself?

OS: First of all, I wish all of humanity that the pandemic will finally be defeated and that we stay healthy. We are still in an exceptional situation. For almost two years, this pandemic has been a major challenge for everyone and also for our German-Armenian community. I wish that as soon as possible, without any restrictions, without 3G or 2G rules, we can come together, celebrate services, praise God, meet each other, organize cultural and social events, practice our identity and our faith. I'm sure many people, our parishioners, miss this and are eagerly awaiting it.

In 2022 we have two important, large projects in our diocese, namely the renovation of the diocesan church in Cologne and the Armenian church in Göppingen. I wish that we can realize these expensive but urgently needed projects with the help of our compatriots and friends.

Personally, I also wish God's blessing and health, so that I can continue my episcopal duties in 2022 for the glory of God and in the service of the German-Armenian community.

Editor: Christmas is the time of miracles. What miracle do you wish for yourself and for all of us this Christmas?

OS: The great miracle is the incarnation of the Son of God Jesus Christ. God becomes man and is born as a child. The love of God is the real reason for the birth of Jesus. Jesus unites heaven and earth in himself. This is the great and wonderful mystery of Christmas that we celebrate every year. We often seek God in distant, inaccessible heavens, though God is with us through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We don't need to look far for him. We should seek and find him today and always in our neighbors, in the people around us. When we do it, a great miracle happens in our life as well.

Editor: Bless us, Your Excellency.

OS: May God bless and protect us all every day of our lives and keep us in peace and from all visible and invisible dangers. Amen!