Responsibilty: the Armenian Church and China

One of the many clergyman that had his impact on my life and my becoming a priest was Archbishop Asoghig Ghazarian. He served in United States in the 1950’s. Later, he became the Primate of the Diocese of Iraq.

I met Bishop Asoghig on the few occasions when he visited America and he’d come over to our house. He was the priest that blessed my parent’s wedding engagement and through the years they had corresponded with him, staying in-touch enough so that when he would come from Iraq we’d have a chance to visit with him at our home. One day back in 1974 we even had the chance to take him to Disneyland. Though I don’t remember him on the Matterhorn, the image of him on the It’s-a-Small-World boat is still in my head.

In 1977 he passed away. His last wish was to die in Armenia. They brought over the ill prelate on a special plane from Bagdad to Yerevan. I was a student at the Seminary of Etchmiadzin that year. I remember that the venerable Catholicos Vazken I was truly heartbroken and saddened by his colleague’s passing. As a young seminarian, I participated in his funeral. Even more, along with two priests at the ancient monastery of Gayane, I prepared his body through a ritual bath provided for the clergy. I mention this here because his body was a bit different from others, and especially other priests.

You see, Bishop Asoghig had served in China. There he was persecuted and tortured. The same hands and forehead that had once absorbed the sacred Holy Miuron, were bound and beaten by communists and thugs. It was his private hell and, though we met on a few occasions, he didn’t share his stories or experiences with us. Back then I was too young to know, but now looking at his pictures, you can see the blank stare of abuse in his eyes.

I bring this up today because the persecution continues today in China. This week, the Newspress Question for us clergy was about the new religious freedom in China and what is says about our faith. ( Imagine that… China and the Armenian Church? What’s the connection? Well, Bishop Asoghig for one. But Bishop Asoghig was and today China’s violation of human rights and support of regimes supporting Genocide viz. Sudan, is.

China is one of Sudan’s largest suppliers of arms, and in return Sudan is China’s largest overseas oil project. Official data shows that China now takes 40% of Sudan’s oil output. China can and must play a role in bringing an end to the genocide in Darfur.Being descendants of genocide survivors ourselves, there is a moral imperative, no less dictated by our faith that we stand in the shoes of others who are going through the sufferings we’ve endured. And our motivation to do so comes from the possibility of, what might have happened had the world disarmed Turkey at the time of the Armenian Genocide (1915)?

With religious freedom in China, I’m hoping that the same Christian mandate that moves us to search and work for peace will lean heavily on the government to end the Darfur genocide. George Bernard Shaw reminds us, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

The people who make a difference in our lives, like Bishop Asoghig, are the people who dared to take the responsibility for their lives. They were the ones who cared enough to put it all on the line. As a follower of Armenian Orthodoxy, he was a follower of Christ, taking up the cross no matter where it was planted – in Iraq, China, Armenia or on Calvary. Our responsibility is the same, but the way we can express it is much easier – it means standing up for what is right and being ever-vigilant.

Today, we were very happy and encouraged to learn that US filmmaker Steven Spielberg abandoned his role in the Beijing Olympics, as a host of prominent figures accused China of not doing enough to press its ally Sudan to end devastating violence in Darfur. Read more:
The turn is really ours. As a Christian Church, as the Armenian Church – as the one Church which traces its roots to Jesus Christ himself, do we have any other choice but to rise to the occasion and take this responsibility? We need to walk the walk of Christ, and certainly at this point, talk the talk of Christ. In other words, the Armenian Church is definitely concerned about China, as it should be about everything else in the world. Armenian Orthodoxy is our belief system. Christ cared and his Body follows the directions of its Head.

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